How much compensation can you claim for a building site accident?

Working on building sites is known to be potentially hazardous, with construction workers sustaining statistically higher rates of injury and illness than in all other industries.

The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state that annually around 69,000 construction workers in the UK have an illness they believe was caused or made worse by their work, with about 40% of cases being new conditions that started during the year.

65% of cases are of musculoskeletal disorders (such as those caused by a manual handling injury), 20% stress and anxiety and 15% other conditions such as skin or respiratory disorders.

During the same period there were 43 fatal injuries to construction workers. That number is 3.5 times the average rate across all industries. Almost half of these injuries involved a fall from height.

Who are “construction workers”?

Workers in the construction industry can be broadly segmented into 3 groups:

  • Construction of buildings - general construction of buildings, including new work, repair, additions and alterations;
  • Civil Engineering - general construction for civil engineering works, including road and railway construction, and utility projects;
  • Specialised construction activities - including trades that are usually specialised in one aspect common to different structures. For example: demolition, electrical and plumbing installation, joinery installation, plastering, painting and glazing.

What are the risks of accident for construction workers?

The most common causes of accidents in the construction industry are slip and trip accidents and falls - both from a height and on the same level - accounting for more than half of all specified injuries.

Lifting and handling is the second most common risk factor and a significant cause of non-fatal injury

Being struck by a moving vehicle accounts for around 10% of fatal and 2% of non-fatal injuries, and 5% of construction injuries are from machinery or tools.

Any of these types of accident may cause injuries such as back and neck injuries, head injuries; fractures; dislocations; amputations and burns.

In addition, dusts from stone, cement, bricks or concrete may contribute to construction workers’ respiratory problems.

There is also the risk that they may have been exposed to known and probable carcinogens in the past - particularly asbestos and silica - and these may lead to fatal illnesses. Around 3,700 deaths were recorded in 2005, representing 46% of the total number of occupational cancer deaths.

Other conditions that may affect construction workers include occupational deafness; and Hand Arm Vibration (largely made up of two conditions, Vibration White Finger and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome).

How can accidents on building sites be prevented?

Workers’ health and safety on building and other construction sites is strictly regulated by legislation.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to plan, control, organise, monitor and review their work to manage health and safety under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

In addition, revised legislation - Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) which came into force on 6 April 2015, stipulates that those carrying out construction work must plan, manage and monitor construction work under their control so it is carried out without risks to health and safety. Where a project involves more than one contractor activities must be co-ordinated with others in the project team.

The exact measures required to prevent accidents in all aspects of the industry are detailed in Health and Safety in Construction HSG150, published by the HSE.

If you sustain an accident on a building site due to someone else failing to follow legislation (i.e. their negligence) you may be able to pursue a claim for compensation for your injuries.

This includes visitors to building sites, who although not covered by all the same health and safety regulations as workers, are protected by both the common law and by legislation such as the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and, in Scotland, the Occupiers Liability (Scotland) Act 1960.

How much compensation could you get for a building site injury?

Compensation awards vary according to the injuries sustained and their immediate and long-term impact on the claimant’s life.

The awards or damages are divided into general damages and special damages.

General damages are to compensate for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity sustained from the accident. Loss of amenity means that dues to your injury you are unable to participate in social, sporting or any other leisure pastimes that you previously enjoyed.

There are recommended upper and lower limits for each injury or illness set out in the Judicial College Guidelines but each case is assessed on its specific facts and what may be supported by medical evidence.

Special damages are awarded to compensate you for financial losses incurred. These may include loss of earnings, loss of future earnings (including if you are able to work after your injury but in a lower-paid job or for fewer hours). Special damages will also include cost of treatment, now and in the future, and any other costs, such as care.