Construction sector strategy 2012-15

Sector description

The construction industry encompasses a very broad range of work; from large projects like Crossrail, carried out by major contractors for large, commercial or public sector clients, to the maintenance of small business premises or domestic roof repairs undertaken by the self-employed.

Decisions made along the supply chain by clients, designers, contractors or suppliers affect the hazards faced by those on site.

Some key points about construction:

Key stakeholders

There are many representative stakeholder bodies that have delivered significant change within the industry. However, there is a real risk that their priorities and direction can be uncoordinated and the status quo is accepted. Strong cross-industry and organisational leadership, supported by HSE, is required to provide direction and impetus to ensure continuous improvement. Many of the stakeholder bodies are represented on the HSE Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC). However, much of the industry at the smaller end is not engaged, nor influenced by, stakeholder bodies.

Clients can significantly influence standards on a project / site from its inception. Experience shows that where clients show leadership and promote collaborative working then health, safety and other benefits ensue, but this is not recognised or achieved universally. Encouraging and helping clients to understand these benefits, and to act on them, remains a challenge and forms and important part of this Strategy.

Safety and health issues

The industry is one of the most hazardous in GB – around one third of all workplace fatalities occur in construction and more than 750 people (workers and members of the public) have died from injuries they received because of construction work over the last 10 years.  Key risks persist and falls from height remain the single biggest cause of fatal injuries in the industry, particularly on small sites.  Thousands more people are injured or made ill by their work in construction.

There is also the potential for catastrophic incidents with multiple fatalities on large and small sites whether related to cranes, scaffold or structural collapses, fire or explosion, etc.

It is widely recognised that the management of health risks has not kept pace with safety, even on large sites.  Occupational health issues include:

Rationale for strategic direction

Overall, the management of health and safety issues in the construction industry can largely be distinguished by size of organisations involved. Generally, the large well-organised section of the industry has sophisticated management arrangements, competent health and safety professionals and a commitment to good health and safety performance. On the other hand the smaller end of the industry often has little management structure, limited health and safety competence, and is not particularly motivated beyond pricing to win work.

The issues can be summarised as follows:

Asbestos work warrants separate consideration given the regulatory framework, licensing and wider duty-holder responsibilities affecting construction activity.

The strategy therefore characterises construction into three areas:

The strategy recognises that there is a large range of issues. The highest risks are targeted, and priorities include refurbishment, work at height, asbestos, respiratory risks and good order to prevent slips and trips.

Smaller sites / projects

Smaller sites / projects account for the largest proportion of work-related deaths in construction, with high levels of ill health and injuries each year.

Small sites are usually of short duration, sometimes operating on a cash-in-hand informal basis, often with very small profit margins and have no real health and safety organisational structure / framework / system.

In general, those running and working on small sites:

Larger sites / projects

Larger projects / businesses are often better organised and operate within a stakeholder framework that is amenable to influence. Larger organisations have mature and sophisticated management arrangements and in-house competence. However, their health and safety performance can still fail with serious consequences given the hazardous construction environment.

Issues relating to larger sites/organisations:


Asbestos was extensively used in the construction of buildings until as late as 2,000 and is present in more than 500,000 commercial premises and an unknown number of domestic premises.

It is the biggest occupational cause of death in GB, accounting for approximately 4,000 deaths per year due to mesothelioma and lung cancer. Although these deaths are associated with historical exposure there is a need to ensure that current practices are preventing exposure.

Many aspects of working directly with asbestos in buildings (eg removal and encapsulation work) are subject to a permissioning licensing regime.

Those exposed to risks can be broadly categorised to mirror the regulatory framework:

Legislation and regulation

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) make the general duties under the Health and Safety Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act) more specific to construction. CDM integrates health and safety into the management of a construction project. It covers main duties applicable to all construction projects, with additional duties placed on those involved in notifiable (broadly larger) projects through the entire supply chain of client, designers, principal contractor, contractors and workers.  The CDM Regulations are under revision.   

Asbestos licensing is a 'permissioning regime' under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.  The Regulations also set out duties for managing asbestos in non-domestic premises, covering identification of the presence of asbestos, assessing work which exposes employees and others to asbestos, and licensing work with asbestos.

Almost all construction health and safety regulations are enforced by HSE. However, there are many interfaces with other regulators for other aspects of construction including local authorities (eg building control, environmental health, planning, trading standards) and the Environment Agency.

Licensed asbestos removal work and compliance with the duty to manage are regulated by both HSE and local authorities.

Strategic regulatory and sector approach

HSE's construction programme (ConP) is evidence-based and outcome driven. Its priorities are derived from an understanding of causal factors underlying accidents and wider industry intelligence from a variety of sources, including stakeholders.

This evidence-based approach examines safety, health, regulatory and cultural themes delivering change in a planned and balanced way, encompassing procurement and supply chain practices, a wide variety of stakeholders, process activities and trades.  The most appropriate route for delivery through the health and safety system is considered, with intervention techniques geared to the level of maturity of the issue and to achieving specific outcomes.

Importantly the flexible design of the programme allows quick response to 'in- year' pressure and potential statistical trends.

Future trends

Evidence from previous years is that workplace injuries move in the same direction as economic activity.  Output and employment levels fell in construction during the recession, which also saw falls in injuries.  However, early signs of economic recovery might have an impact on injuries.  As the economy picks up, a less experienced workforce and higher levels of fatigue can put an upward pressure on injury rates.  For work-related health the historical evidence is much less clear.

As well as economic changes, there is the potential for, changes in technology and techniques within the industry and developments in government strategy.  Examples of these would be the introduction of Building Information Modelling (BIM), the introduction of off-site pre-fabrication; and the publication of the Coalition Government's Industrial Strategy for Construction. 

Aims for 2012-15

Smaller sites / projects

Creating healthier, safer workplaces

To increase the number of those running and working on smaller sites / projects who are aware of their health and safety obligations and take positive, proportionate steps towards achieving compliance.

Building competence

To increase the competence of those running and working on smaller sites / projects in identifying, understanding and proactively / proportionately managing health and safety risks.

Securing justice

To attain immediate and sustained compliance with the law by those running and working on smaller sites / projects.

Larger sites / projects

Creating healthier, safer workplaces

To create healthier and safer workplaces on larger sites / projects

Building competence

To increase individual and organisational competence in identifying, understanding and proactively managing health and safety risks

The need for strong leadership

Cross-industry and organisational leadership drives continuous improvement of health and safety within the construction industry

Securing justice

To attain immediate and sustained compliance with the law by those running and working on larger sites / projects


Creating healthier, safer workplaces

To ensure that asbestos risks, wherever they appear in the workplace, are properly managed

Building competence

To ensure that the full range of duty-holders are competent to manage the risks posed by asbestos

The need for strong leadership

To encourage key players from a range of duty-holders to demonstrate effective leadership in tackling asbestos risks

Securing justice

To attain immediate and sustained compliance with the law by asbestos duty-holders

Updated 2021-02-25