Over the past three decades, the construction industry has invested heavily in training and cultural change programmes aimed to eliminate the risk of injury and harm to people at work. And that investment has worked: there have been significant reductions in death, injury and accident rates from the late 1980s. Yet over the last five years, those downward trends have faltered.
“Accident and ill health rates have hit a plateau,” says Gordon Crick, Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Technical Lead for the Discovering Safety Programme whom 3D Repo interviewed for this white paper, along with Zane Ulhaq, Associate Director at Atkins.
“The number of people dying and getting injured remains the same.”
In 2019/20, the UK construction industry killed 40 people, equating to a fatal injury rate of 1.74 per 100,000 workers, almost four times the all-industry rate. And every year, it injures 61,000 people¹. The HSE, the UK’s government agency responsible for the regulation of workplace health and safety, estimates that the total cost of work-related injury and ill health for construction was £1.2bn in 2018/19 and led to 2.1 million lost working days.
It would be easy to blame construction’s two-tier nature for these statistics; the grouping of a multi-billion-pound infrastructure programme in the same sector as a one-person roofing business. But even on our most high-profile projects, where health and safety are undoubtedly prioritised, there are incidents, accidents and sadly even fatalities. The industry needs a step change; technology offers the opportunity for that change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted the pace of construction’s journey towards wider digital technology adoption. The need to find new ways to keep people safe so that they can continue to work – and keep the UK’s economy going – has encouraged the take-up of new technologies on-site and in the design office. Virtual meetings around 3D models have become the norm by necessity.
Certain parts of the industry have already made great progress in health and safety risk management and control. Greater collaboration can only help with that. But the challenge remains that early risk identification, and mitigation, are still dependent on the expertise and experience of those around the screen. A smaller project or company, with fewer resources, may not be able to field a diverse enough team at the design and planning stages.
We need to find ways to harness the knowledge and experience of the experts around the table and make it automatically available when new assets are being designed. We need to harvest and analyse data collected through monitoring, wearable tech and equipment operation and feed it back to the design process.
In this white paper, we look at the challenges faced by the industry as we set out on this digital journey. And we shine a light on programmes and projects which are leading the way.