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Renewed focus on Danish working environments

| Text: Marie Preisler

Denmark’s construction industry will fight to limit workplace accidents. It’s the latest in a range of government initiatives aimed at improving the physical work environment.

Workers in the building and construction industry are nearly twice as likely to suffer from serious workplace accidents compared to other workers. While the number of workplace accidents is falling elsewhere, the construction sector is seeing an increase. As a result the industry has joined the government in a campaign aimed to turn this bleak statistic around.  

13 percent of all serious workplace accidents and one in five deaths happen within the construction industry, even though it employs just six percent of the Danish workforce. The number of accidents per worker has risen by six percent in four years, while the number of serious accidents are up by 45 percent.

Many rooftop falls

The government is preparing a 50 point action plan to improve safety. It addresses developers’ and entrepreneurs’ preparedness as well as the execution of construction work. Most serious workplace accidents involve falling, for instance during roof repair work. This represents nearly a quarter of all accidents. Falling is also involved in many of the industry's fatal accidents.

“The only way to reduce the number of construction sector accidents is for everyone to take responsibility and make this a joint effort. I expect all parties to the action plan will do whatever they can so that we can turn the trend,” said Mette Frederiksen, the Minister of Employment (Social Democrats) in a press release when the action plan was launched.

Planen indebærer blandt andet et initiativ rettet mod lærlinge, da mange lærlinge erfaringsmæssigt kommer til skade som følge af usikre arbejdsmetoder,

The plan includes an initiative aimed at apprentices, as experience shows they are often among those who are injured because of unsafe work methods. It also includes various information and guidance measures, including information meetings aimed at small businesses which will focus on accident prevention. Smaller businesses figure heavily in workplace accident statistics.

Foreign workers worst hit

The initiative comes in the wake of the 2013 budget agreement between the government and the Red-Green Alliance, and the Minister of Employment has since said she wants to see the working environment higher up on the political agenda. She also says she wants to focus on social dumping in terms of safety and the working environment, when focus so far has mainly been on low wages.

Last year Mette Frederiksen told the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions’ newsletter A4:

“It is of increasing concern to me, if we — as we have been witnessing when it comes to wages — enter a downward spiral where the foreign workers will be the ones to both lower work efficiency and break the rules on working environments and safety. It means Danish workers being pushed into a position where they are compromising their own safety. This could for instance happen on a construction site where builders will stop using safety wires.”

The action plan highlights how foreign labour is particularly hard hit by workplace accidents within the construction industry. 

The government has also strengthen the controlling powers of the Danish Working Environment Authority, and this has led to more control visits also to construction and building companies. In 2012 the authority identified 78 illegalities which increased the risk of accidents for every 100 control visits it performed. In 2013 the number rose to 94.

Public developers’ important role

The development of the action plan included mapping the extent and type of accidents in the construction and building industry. The government also examined the latest research on the topic. This showed that accidents are best prevented by introducing measures which focus both on the individual situation and on the framework in which it exists. The research shows that you can get lasting and considerable effect by implementing both structural safety measures — with focus on how work is executed — and by implementing integrated safety measures by introducing various activities in a workplace, e.g. a combination of campaigns and concrete measures.   

The action plan also points to the great potential for preventing accidents together with public developers — the state and municipalities — because they are responsible for a sizeable chunk of the total construction activity. They are also in a position to pass on positive experiences of how to prevent accidents from construction firm to construction firm.

Facts

Workplace accidents in Denmark’s building and construction industry:

One of the trades with the highest risks of workplace accidents. 13 percent of all serious workplace accidents and one in five fatal accidents happen here, even though only six percent of the total workforce are employed in this industry. Construction workers run nearly double the risk of being involved in a serious workplace accident compared to other workers. 

Every year around ten workers die in workplace accidents, and around 5,000 workers are involved in reported workplace accidents - 1,000 of them serious, i.e. the worker will be off sick for at least three weeks afterwards. 

The number of accidents per worker rose by six percent between 2007 and 2011, and the number of serious accidents per worker rose by 45 percent during the same period.

Around half of the serious and reported accidents happen in companies with 1 to 19 employees.

The top five most reported serious accidents:

  • Fall to a lower level, e.g. during roofing work
  • Fall on one level, e.g. tripping over rubbish
  • Acute strain, e.g. from carrying heavy construction materials
  • Cuts, e.g. from using circular saws
  • Hit by falling object, e.g. when a bricklayer is hit by loose pieces of scaffolding

Research points to three equally common causes for serious accidents:

  • A lack of safety measures during work on a building site
  • Mistakes and faults in the contractor’s planning
  • Mistakes and faults in the project planning with the developer and consultant. The working environment is improved when the developer makes demands.

Source: The Ministry of Employment’s survey linked to the new action plan

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