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A slip of the tongue

The rise in on-site fatalities makes it essential that foreign workers are aware of health and safety issues

NCE REVEALED last week that the number of fatalities on-site is rising, a rise that is likely due to an influx of migrant workers who may not understand safety signage or be familiar with site safety procedures.

The news is not a surprise to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). In its 2006 report, Migrant workers in England and Wales: an assessment of migrant worker health and safety risks, it predicted that an influx of international labour may impact on safety in the construction industry.

The HSE collated interviews with 200 migrant workers and concluded that 'migrants are more likely to be working in sectors or occupations where there are existing health and safety concerns, and it is their status as new workers that may place them at added risk'.

But something seems to be amiss. While clients and contractors are attempting to turn around the safety record of British sites, thanks to legislation such as CDM, are labour sub-contractors so careful?

Civil Engineering Contractors Association chairman John Wilson points out that even if employers wish to train staff on site, they are reluctant to spend cash training agency employees.

'An employer may well wish to lay on an English teacher for its direct employees, but this is impossible for sub-contractors.

People have yet to get to grips with this, ' he says.

But according to an HSE spokesperson, this is no excuse.

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 employers have a duty of care to their employees, including education and training. Are those employing a non-English speaking workforce doing all they can to get employees up to speed?

Unions are already calling for better training. According to Bob Blackman, Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G) national secretary for construction: 'Industry managers must allocate time, resources and people to make sure safety regimes are toughened up, understood and implemented.

This may include ensuring that site signage is understood and properly targeted at foreign workers.

This could be carried out through the Trojan Horse project that was developed by the Steel Construction Institute and was initially aimed at the disproportionate number of illiterate workers on construction sites. It uses pictures to demonstrate the right and wrong way to behave, and has been successful in tests so far. It will not solve the problem, but it will be a good start.

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