The creation of regulations covering health and safety in the construction industry is usually under the jurisdiction of a government agency. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created at the national level in 1970 to address those issues in both the public and private sectors, and currently issues and revises regulations covering all public and most private employment. In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is similarly responsible for monitoring safety and health issues and making these regulations known in England, Scotland, and Wales, while the HSE of Northern Ireland is responsible for industrial health and safety issues in that country. Many other nations have their own similar agencies.
While workplace safety is an issue of great importance to workers worldwide, the construction industry is of particular concern because of the inherently hazardous nature of many of the jobs involved. Before the 20th century, thousands of workers worldwide regularly died or were seriously injured in workplace accidents, particularly in construction. At the turn of the 21st century, accidents and fatalities in the industry remained among the highest of all occupations.
Before the establishment of OSHA in 1970, issues surrounding safety in the US construction industry were addressed by state governments through their labor departments, by professional associations, and by employers themselves. Regulatory efforts by states frequently fell short, however, because enforcement was a low priority. The lack of meaningful, uniform national standards addressing health and safety in this and other industries was one of the main reasons for the creation of OSHA.
Common physical hazards in the construction industry include falling from high places, being struck by falling objects, puncture wounds from nails and screws, slips and falls on uneven surfaces, and eye injuries from flying objects. Workers can be electrocuted, some have been poisoned when excavation work has punctured gas pipes, and some have contracted cancer from handling carcinogens like asbestos. Some of these hazards are shared with other industries, but many are unique to construction. As part of its charge to protect workers' health and safety in the construction industry, OSHA has issued regulations addressing each of these hazards as well as thousands more.
Throughout its history, OSHA has been controversial. Workers and their unions have often complained that the regulations are inadequate, and that the fines imposed for non-compliance are regarded by their industries as simply a cost of doing business. Employers, for their part, have complained that compliance with many of the regulations is excessively costly and that the agency concentrates more on punishing them for non-compliance than it does on making workplaces safer.