Health & Safety in Construction – Our Complete Construction Site Safety Guide

The construction industry is one of the most critical sectors of the UK’s economy, with around 6% of the workforce actively involved in construction and millions of auxiliary jobs reliant on the trade. However, it does come with some serious challenges, not least of which is construction site safety.

There are many different hazards on even the most minor building site, and as a site grows, so do its risks. Therefore, health and safety on construction sites have to be a priority. Lives are, quite literally, at risk.

In this article, we will look at what a construction site is, and the importance of ensuring the safety and well-being not just of workers but visitors to the site and the surrounding area. We will take a look at the most common safety hazards, as well as who is responsible for construction site safety.

We will also look at the legal requirements to ensure health and safety in construction is maintained, as well as some tips on how to minimise the risk. We’ll also touch on the subject of construction business insurance and how operators can minimise their financial exposure in the event of a compensation claim.


What’s classified as a construction site?

When you talk about a construction site, that generally means a location where new buildings, restorations, alterations and additions to existing buildings or commercial construction occur. Civil engineering, including work on infrastructure such as roads and railways, also falls under the definition of a construction site.

Within the construction sector, there are then several subsections involving specialist trades such as demolition, plumbing, electrical fitting, painting, plastering and joinery. All of these come with their own risks and hazards. So, no matter how big or small the project, the dangers are present, and the same rules and health and safety considerations need to be applied.


shows a builder filing wood


The importance of construction site safety – what do the facts and figures say?

When you start looking at the facts and figures for construction site safety, you immediately understand why it is such an important consideration. The HSE reports that, on average, there are around 54,000 non-fatal injuries to workers every year on UK building sites. Most of those are due to slips, trips and falls, the vast majority of which could have been prevented.

The more concerning statistic is that the construction industry also has one of the highest levels of work-related fatalities, with around 41 deaths every year. While most of those are construction workers, sometimes the public is affected by poor building construction safety. Nearly half of these deaths result from falls from a height.

However, it isn’t just work-related injuries that pose a risk on construction sites. Work-related illnesses are also problematic, including silicosis, musculoskeletal disorders, and hand-arm vibration syndrome (also known as ‘vibration white-finger’. Nearly 80,000 construction workers a year are exposed to work-related illnesses. Some of these can manifest themselves years later, such as the horrific and terminal condition mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos dust.

These statistics alone demonstrate why health and safety on construction sites should always be at the very centre of any operation, regardless of the size.


shows a red hard hat on the ground - construction safety guide


Who is responsible for construction site safety?

The most obvious answer to that question is that everyone on site, regardless of their role within the operation, has a responsibility to ensure the safety of themselves and those around them, as well as visitors and members of the public. But in legal terms, the Building Safety Act states that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the overall Building Safety Regulator. They are responsible for setting and enforcing regulations.

However, the HSE are technically overseers. On-site, the responsibility will lie with the Principal Contractor. This individual is in charge of planning, managing and monitoring health and safety during building. Their guidelines are laid out in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015). If a project has more than one contractor involved (for example, a builder, a roofer and an electrician), there must be a designated Principal Contractor.

Very large contracts may employ a dedicated Safety Inspector, whose role is to ensure that employers are managing risk and adhering to their duty of care towards employees, contractors and the public. They are required to inspect sites regularly and keep detailed records of inspections, risk assessments, breaches in compliance and subsequent investigations.

A safety officer has responsibilities similar to a safety inspector. However, they are usually on-site at all times and may also be responsible for on-site training and carrying out compliance audits.

Employers have a crucial role to play in construction site health and safety. They have a duty of care to ensure that everyone employed or contracted is working in safe conditions and that the site complies with all current HSE legislation. They also have a duty of care towards the public. The employer is responsible for ensuring sufficient PPE and workers are using it.

Finally, each worker and contractor on a site has responsibilities regarding health and safety in construction and on-site. These include having the appropriate training and skills to carry out the work and being aware of the risks of working on a building site. They also have a responsibility to identify and rectify any hazards while working. That could be anything from an exposed live wire to a wet floor or unsecured scaffolding. Simply assuming it’s “someone else’s problem” is unacceptable.


shows two men talking in front of a construction site


A list of common construction safety hazards

The most common building construction safety hazards can be broken down into several categories.

  • Falls from a height – the biggest cause of fatalities on building sites in the UK. The Working at Height Regulations 2005 stipulate that when it cannot be avoided, working at height has to be organised and risk assessed.
  • Falls, slips and trips – from an untended cable to a wet floor these common injuries can be mitigated with a bit of additional care.
  • Excessive noise – HSE reports estimate that over 21,000 UK construction workers have suffered long-term hearing problems inflicted during time spent on construction sites. Ear defenders and ear plugs are a simple way to reduce this problem in the future.
  • Fire – A real risk on building sites due to wiring, welding and the use of flammable chemicals.
  • Heavy lifting and carrying – the correct training on how to lift heavy loads can mitigate back and shoulder injuries.
  • Electrical hazards, burns and shocks – faulty wiring and exposed power cables pose a serious health and safety risk on any construction site and must be managed with the utmost care, as exposure to high current cabling can be fatal.


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Best practice tips and rules on how to improve safety on construction sites

While we may have painted a picture of a hazardous working environment, there are plenty of ways to improve health and safety on construction sites.


  1. PPE and protective equipment

Personal Protective Equipment is at the heart of all construction site safety. Not only does equipment such as work boots, ear defenders, Hi-Viz jackets and gloves protect the wearer, but they also make them easier to see and, therefore, less vulnerable. Providing adequate and correct PPE is the employer’s responsibility, but it is also the responsibility of the employee or contractor to wear the correct PPE while on-site.


  1. Site induction

Every site is different, so even experienced contractors need to go through an induction process to familiarise themselves with aspects such as the location of First Aid and Eyewash Stations, fire procedures and muster points, and any site-specific health and safety procedures.


  1. Keeping the site tidy

Running a tidy site can mitigate injuries such as trips and falls. Discarded cables or even a randomly dropped brick can create a hazard that could result in a fall or trip, while a build-up of solvent-soaked paper towels could be a flashpoint for a serious fire.


  1. Training

If contractors are using equipment that they are unfamiliar with, adequate training is absolutely essential. Nobody should be asked to operate machinery or equipment without a thorough training session first. This also applies to designated first aiders on-site – first aiders must have up-to-date training and be certified and insured.


shows a construction worker drilling into wood - construction site safety



  1. Signage matters

Clear and adequate signage is a critical element of health and safety on construction sites. Safety signs give workers and the public clear instructions on things such as fire muster points, emergency exits, hazards and prohibited areas.


  1. Communication

A morning meeting, no matter how brief, can clarify exactly what role each person on site is expected to fulfil and what, if any, changes have occurred from the previous day. For example, on a demolition site, everyone must be aware of the next area to be cleared to prevent anyone from inadvertently straying into a dangerous area.


  1. Documentation

Paperwork may be a chore, but it’s an essential one. It is also a compulsory part of HSE requirements to ensure that every aspect of a construction site complies with current regulations. The site Safety Manager needs to ensure all paperwork relating to health and safety legislation and requirements is completed correctly.


  1. Supervision

There is a ‘chain of command’ on a construction site that is essential for the safety of less experienced or less skilled workers. At the head of this chain is the site foreman, who supervises day-to-day operations on-site. This foreman liaises with employees and contractors throughout the day, ensuring that everyone follows the correct safety procedures and is wearing the correct PPE. It is also up to the supervisor to look out for potential hazards and eliminate them before anyone gets hurt. Site supervisors must also be familiar with current legislation, including HSE and OSHA standards.


  1. Equipment

It is essential that the right equipment is used for the right job and that it is maintained and in good condition. That goes for anything from a simple bucket to a complex piece of construction machinery such as a forklift or digger. Regular inspections should be conducted to spot any potential issues before they become a hazard.


  1. Emergency response plans

If a problem arises, whether that’s an injury to a worker or a fire, a hazardous material spill or a collapse, an emergency response plan needs to be in place and immediately activated to prevent injury or death. Everyone on site must be aware of the ERP and how to respond.


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UK legal requirements for construction site safety

In the UK, specific legal requirements are in place to ensure construction site safety is never compromised. The primary legislation covering construction sites includes:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which requires employers to provide a safe working environment
  • The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, also referred to as the CDM Regulations
  • Construction (Working Places) Regulations 1966
  • Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
  • Construction (Head Protection) Regulations 1989
  • Work at Height Regulations 2005
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)
  • Construction Site Safety Signs and Signals Regulations 1996


shows a danger sign in front of a construction site - construction site safety guide

Construction business insurance – protection in an uncertain world

Construction site safety is never guaranteed, and sometimes, things can go wrong. Whether it’s a compensation claim due to an injury, fatality, or damage to a site due to bad weather, vandalism, or fire, site owners and developers always face a certain amount of risk. Construction business insurance can offer developers and owners an essential shield from the financial costs of claims and damage.

Insurance for construction sites gives operators financial protection. The most common type of cover is Public Liability Insurance or PLI. This gives you financial cover against compensation claims for personal injury (whether that is an employee, contractor or member of the public) or damage to property. Other insurance cover that could be included in a construction insurance package includes business interruption insurance, commercial motor insurance for vehicles, cover for the loss of equipment through theft, fire or flooding, and legal cover.

The only legal requirement is Employer’s Liability Insurance. This is required even if all of your on-site workers are contractors. Failure to take out ELI can result in criminal prosecution and a hefty fine. Without the right type of insurance, your project could be financially vulnerable, so it is important to protect yourself and your assets with specialist insurance that is specifically designed to provide peace of mind to construction site operators.

Construction sites can be dangerous, so construction business insurance is essential if you run, own or manage a building site or construction project. At Park Insurance, our expert advisors can provide you with no-nonsense, no-obligation advice and guidance on the right construction business insurance for your needs. Contact us now using our online form or call us for more details.