The appalling toll of death and serious injury in the construction industry has been brought home to me by two meetings I have had recently.
I have had a meeting with Rita Donaghy, probably not a name you are familiar with, but she is a former President of the TUC who has been appointed by Rt Hon James Purnell MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to undertake an inquiry into the underlying causes of construction fatalities. Ms Donaghy is due to report back to Mr Purnell by the end of April 2009 and she has invited the FMB to present its thoughts to her. I have also had a meeting with Lord (Bill) McKenzie, the Minister responsible for Health and Safety at the Department of Work and Pensions, for a more general discussion about the implementation of safe working practices.
FMB COMMITTED TO PROMOTING SITE SAFETY
Although some improvement has been made since the 1980s and early 1990s when construction deaths were averaging 130 every year, 72 people in the industry lost their lives last year whilst at work. Falls remain the predominant cause, with accidents involving moving vehicles, plant or materials close behind. While FMB members are not so likely to be the victims of accidents involving tower cranes or on motorway maintenance sites, the evidence points to a significant proportion of accidents occurring on small sites and with smaller employers. My concern remains that the quality of data collected does not allow any differentiation between smaller employers who take their responsibilities seriously and those operating in the grey economy that treat Health and Safety in just as cavalier a fashion as paying their taxes.
My clear message to both Rita Donaghy and Bill McKenzie was that the FMB, and its members, consider Health and Safety to be the highest priority. The FMB is actively engaged with many statutory and cross industry bodies working in this area, and we offer members a range of support services for advice on health and safety. Our Information Services Department (tel: 0870 162 0947) can answer most enquiries and a specialist helpline is available for more detailed questions.
Factsheets on many aspects of Health and Safety are available on the FMB website, or can be requested in hard copy from the information department. Regular articles appear in Master Builder magazine and specialist workshops are run around the country. Above all, the FMB works closely with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that each is aware of the needs and concerns of the other.
WORKER SAFETY ADVISOR SCHEME
But more needs to be done. Above all the statutory regime needs to be simplified. The FMB has identified 26 separate Acts of Parliament and Regulations that need to be complied with and where breaches could result in prosecution. We have long argued that whilst managing this volume of legislation may just be possible for a larger business with specialist staff available to scrutinise, explain and train, smaller companies need fewer regulations, with clearer explanations in the source documents and effective enforcement.
The FMB is also arguing for the Government to put funding into a nationwide Worker Safety Advisor scheme. The pilot run by the FMB, the Transport and General Workers Union (now Unite), and UCATT in 2005-07 was highly successful in taking specialist support to building sites to give practical advice. Rolling that scheme out now would be highly cost effective.
Another concern of the FMB is the availability of advice from the HSE. A number of publications still remain available only at a cost, and the FMB believes that high quality advice from the regulator must be freely available to all those from whom compliance is required. The FMB has offered the HSE a regular page in this magazine to put across its key messages. I hope that this offer will be taken up.
EVEN PLAYING FIELD
Finally, there is a need to tackle the informal economy. The difficulty of targeting those businesses that operate informally (who I am convinced are where a disproportionate amount of accidents occur), means that the limited resources available for enforcement remain focussed on those who work legitimately. At the same time with clients, particularly those in the domestic sector still driven almost entirely by price, responsible builders will be at a real disadvantage against those prepared to cut corners and put lives at risk. Perhaps the time has come to put domestic clients under the same liability as commercial clients for ensuring same working practices on their property.
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