THE RISING number of construction-related deaths in the City of London have prompted an unprecedented police investigation into contractors' health and safety procedures.
This week, the City of London force revealed plans to carry out a year long survey to scrutinise work in the city. It aims to establish why, against a background of nationally falling accident rates, fatalities continue to rise in the area.
DC Andy Brown, officer in charge of the investigation, admitted that is was simply a 'gut feeling that construction-related deaths were on the increase' which prompted the survey. But he pointed to the deaths of two window cleaners who died falling from a crane in central London last April as an example of the type of accident he was keen to stamp out.
The police action also comes on the back of an alarming increase in the number of scaffolding collapses in the City, which were particularly frequent during last autumn's storms.
Investigations will start this month with letters to contractors working within the Square Mile, in an attempt to find out whether greater police involvement could reduce the number of fatalities.
It is hoped a preliminary report will be ready by the end of March.
The Corporation of London is already working with the police on the survey. It will monitor the results and hopes to expand the inquiry nationwide if police involvement proves to be worthwhile.
However, the Health & Safety Executive said it was concerned that the police were taking on the role and pointed out that officers would not have the specialist health and safety legislation knowledge of its own inspectors.
The HSE added that it was surprised that the police felt the study was necessary as national statistics showed that in 1997/1998 there were 80 deaths nationwide compared to 93 in 1996/97. The provisional total of deaths in the City for 1997/1998 is four.
'There was a spate of deaths in the early part of last year which may have given the impression that the number of deaths was increasing overall,' said a spokesman.
He added that the deaths of the window cleaners last April were not on a construction site and that 'incidents such as these may have distorted their thinking'.