A History of Safety in the Construction Industry

A History of Safety in the Construction Industry

21st October 2019

A History of Safety in the Construction Industry

Construction is now regarded as one of the most highly-regulated industries around, with lots of laws and safety equipment to keep workers safe. Yet, it wasn’t always like this.   
The history of safety in the construction has come a long way since the early days of having to work with virtually no safety features in place. The following are some of the milestones that have been passed along the way.
The 19th Century – A Dangerous Time
One of the most dangerous jobs in this period was building railways. It is said that 3 workers lost their lives for every mile of track that was laid in the UK. In the US, it estimated that up to 2,000 Chinese workers died during the construction of the transcontinental railroad.
The high rate of deaths led to a public outcry. Eventually, the rail companies were made responsible for looking after the health of their workers.
Tower Bridge in London was also built in this century. Work started in 1886 and lasted for 8 years. With precarious conditions seeing workers fit 2 million rivets by hand, 10 men died during the construction phase.
An example of the dangers of working in the construction industry in these times came with a tragic accident while the New Crystal Palace was being built in London. In 1854, a section of 108-feet high scaffolding fell, killing 12 workers. A plaque dedicated to the incident can still be seen next to St Bartholomew’s Church.
1974 – The Health and Safety at Work Act
If we step forward in time to 1974, we can see that the UK Government passed the Health and Safety at Work Act this year. 
In the same year, some 166 construction workers died on the job. This was a quarter of all work-related deaths in the year.
The 1980s – More Hard Hat Use
With reliable statistics now published and widely available, everyone was able to see exactly how dangerous construction work could be. At close to 8 fatalities for every 1,000 workers, this industry was four times as deadly as the average UK job in 1981. 116 workers died on different sites that year. 
The 80s also saw the authorities pushing for workers to wear hard hats at all times. Thankfully, it became an increasingly common sight throughout the decade. The end of this decade was when the Noise at Work Regulations were introduced too.
The 21st Century – More and Better Solutions
The Work at Height regulations that were introduced in 2005 caused a shift in how construction work was carried out.  Ladders and step unit solutions are now available to help workers to stay safe even when carrying out complex jobs at varying heights.
Accident rates have continued to fall, as new regulations and better safety equipment make construction work less hazardous. In 2018/9, 147 workers were killed in workplace accidents in the UK. 30 of them were from the construction industry. Falls from a great height accounted for 40 of the total deaths.
It is clear that the times have changed and that construction workers are now better protected than ever before. With the use of the right equipment and a common sense approach, any sort of building work can be done with no risk to the people on the site.