Injury & illness within construction

Injury and illnesses in construction workers are particularly common, the intense physical activity that some workers will go through every day such as heavy lifting, using tools and operating machinery puts a lot of physical strain on the body. On top of that, lots of constructions workers often use or are exposed to chemicals and substances that can also cause issues to the skin or internally if inhaled.

Not only is construction common for injury and illness, but according to HSE, Construction workplace deaths rose to 40 in 2019/20, up from a low of 31 in the previous year.

In this article we will go through some of the most common injuries and illnesses to look out for and what you can do to help mitigate them, because a serious injury or illness may mean having to take time off work which isn’t something that everyone can afford to do, especially those that are self-employed.

Scaffolding / falling from height:

The first area we are going to cover is the most common cause of serious or even fatal injuries within construction and that’s falling from heights. There was a 27% rise in the number of incidents between 2017 and 2018, going from 89 in 2017 (which was an all-time low) to 113 in 2018, the highest it has been since 2012. The figures were revealed in the NASC 2019 Safety Report, which documents and analyses accident and injury statistics for its full contracting members in the previous calendar year.

2018/2019 Construction Statistics from HSE:

  • 30 fatal injuries to workers and seven to members of the public
  • Average of 36 fatalities to workers and five to members of the public each year over the last five years;
  • 49% of deaths over the same five-year period were due to falls from height

The fatal injury rate (1.31 per 100,000 workers) is three times the All industry rate.

Make sure you’re business or site is doing all it can to put the correct safety procedures in place and that you anyone working at a height or on a scaffold has the appropriate qualifications to mitigate and avoid potential issues.


Musculoskeletal injuries:

There were an estimated 42,000 work-related cases of musculoskeletal disorders (new or long-standing) in 2018/19, about three-fifths of all ill health in the construction industry with 2.1% of workers reporting musculoskeletal disorders – almost double the percentage of the average for all areas of work in the same time period.

One of the most common types of injury is lower back pain, most likely due to heavy lifting of materials and machinery which is something that can be reduced by using the correct lifting techniques (see figure below) or asking for help on items that are difficult to carry properly on your own.


Correct posture to lift a heavy object safely. Illustration of health care. vector illustration


Other common types of musculoskeletal injuries in construction:

  • Carpet Layers’ Knee
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Raynaud’s Syndrome or White Finger Disease
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Common Causes for Construction Injuries:

  • Pushing, pulling, tugging and sliding
  • Whole Body Vibration
  • Vibration from Hand Tools
  • Repetitive Work
  • Lifting
  • Contact Stress (Tools and Sharp Objects)
  • Forcefulness or Muscle Effort

Some of the injuries list above are harder to avoid than others. Making sure you are using the best protective equipment and supports is one way to help reduce the chances of an injury occurring. Listening to your body and getting help or advice on any issues you’re having as soon as they appear is also highly recommended if you’re experiencing any pain or issues go and see a doctor as spotting the issues earlier may reduce them worsening over time and causing long term damage to your body.

Stress, Depression & Anxiety

According to the HSE’s 2018/19 report, there were an estimated 16,000 work-related cases of stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing), which made up a quarter of all ill health in this Sector.

It is incredibly important to make sure that everyone working on your site is comfortable with their working environment. Making sure everyone is treated fairly and respected by their colleagues, feels safe with the machinery they’re using or tasks they have been asked to complete and also making sure they’re not subject to discriminatory behaviour.

Looking out for anyone that may not be acting themselves is something that is hard to do and creating an ‘open door to management’ environment so people can express any feelings of discomfort is something you should aim for. If you do spot anyone showing signs of anxiety or depression it’s worth taking them to one side over a cup of coffee and asking that they’re ok.

Signs of anxiety and depression:

  • loss of interest or no longer finding pleasure in activities or hobbies
  • persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
  • feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • anger, irritability, or restlessness
  • feeling guilty or experiencing feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
  • difficulty controlling worry or fear
  • dread
  • panic

Other common injuries & illnesses:

  • Contact dermatitis: Painters and decorators, carpenters and joiners, and Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified all suffer from more than twice the all-industry rate of contact dermatitis.
  • Occupational asthma: Airborne materials from spray painting, welding, or cutting/grinding metals are among the contributory factors to those suffering from asthma.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Commonly caused by exposure to fumes, chemicals and dust and environmental pollution. Smoking is the single most important causative factor.
  • Occupational Cancer: most commonly mesothelioma, a form of cancer that follows the inhalation of asbestos fibres. The extensive use of insulation board containing brown asbestos (amosite) within buildings for fire protection purposes is a common cause found in today’s construction industry.
  • Occupational Deafness – from years of exposure to loud machinery

New MSD Assessment Tool

HSE has also just recently launched a new assessment tool which will allow workers to diagnose any musculoskeletal disorders.

The new musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) tool is an all-in-one digital solution for the well renowned MAC tool. They have designed the tool to simplify the process of completing each assessment by including a logical step by step approach, saving your assessors time in populating and interpreting the results manually.

The tool is available to both employers and safety representatives so they’re able to assess the risks posed by lifting, carrying and team manual handling activities. The assessor can then understand, interpret and categorise the level of risk, and implement the appropriate control measures.

To learn more about the tool please visit the HSE article.