The biggest single cause of construction accidents is simply getting to the workface, with most accidents occurring when either walking across sites, handling materials or moving to the workface, according to two research projects published by the UK’s Health & Safety Executive.

The research also suggests that design changes could have prevented accidents or lessened their severity in a significant number of cases.

The studies were conducted by engineering consultants Bomel Ltd and Loughborough University. Bomel’s work – ‘Sample analysis of construction accidents reported to HSE’ – involved contacting the reporters of over 1,000 accidents to obtain additional information of potential value in identifying common themes, high risk trades and types of work. The Loughborough study – ‘Causal factors in construction accidents’ – looked in detail at 100 accidents to identify the underlying causative factors. Many of those accidents were minor in nature but could have had far more serious consequences in slightly different circumstances.

Although the projects were completely separate and conducted along different lines, there were a number of similar findings. Some of the key findings from the two research reports include: – There were high incidences of accidents to workers who were moving around the site, handling materials or accessing or leaving the workface – Loughborough’s research found that a significant number of accidents could have been mitigated by design changes. This conclusion arose from a detailed appraisal of the accident circumstances and an assessment of the potential for designer influence – Both studies suggested that accident investigation by contractors was superficial and tended to concentrate on site issues rather than often more fundamental issues such as poor planning and ineffective safety management controls – Poor supervision, communication and competence and lack of client involvement were significant contributors to accidents – Bomel’s research noted that a lack of manual handling training was frequently cited as a significant cause of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries.

Trevor Allan, HSE construction division research coordinator, commented: “This research was commissioned to improve our knowledge of the underlying causes of accidents in construction. The findings of both of these research projects identify the areas of greatest risk and point towards what some of the underlying causes could be. Construction workers are almost three times more likely to suffer a fatal or major injury than workers in other sectors. Although almost 30 per cent of these accidents involve falls from height, this is almost matched by the number of slips and trips on the same level. Most of those were trips, suggesting that site housekeeping, or lack of it, is a major contributor.

“Research such as this helps both the HSE and industry to identify areas of weakness in health and safety performance. One finding suggests that contractors could improve their own investigation of accidents by focusing on prevention, rather than blame. This research will also help HSE prioritise its work and adjust its strategies to ensure the best use of resources.” Copies of HSE Research Report 139: Sample analysis of construction accidents reported to HSE, price £20, ISBN Number 0 7176 27241 and HSE Research Report 156: Causal factors in construction accidents, price £25, ISBN Number 0 7176 2749 7 can be found on the HSE website at