Measures to speed-up the prosecution of company directors involved in site deaths is just one of a series of recommendations made by former TUC president Rita Donaghy in her report into site fatalities, published today.
Donaghy said: “That construction fatalities are regarded as socially acceptable at present for the following reasons:
“A construction fatality rarely appears in a national or even regional newspaper when it occurs. Prosecutions and sentencing are ludicrously low. Families who suffer a construction bereavement and come up against ‘the system’ for the first time find themselves virtually unsupported.
“Public reaction to the number of fatalities in construction is to say “it is a dangerous industry” or “I’m surprised it [the number of fatalities] is as low as that” or “there’s no entry requirements so they don’t get the best people” - the implication being that construction deaths are not important,” she said.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “This is a strong endorsement of the arguments that the TUC and unions have been making for many years. There is an undeniable case for a change in the law to ensure that directors ensure good health and safety practice through a framework of planning, delivery, monitoring and reviewing.”
The report also sets out measures to combat gangmasters, and the UNITE Union has already called for legislation to combat the exploitation of migrant workers in the UK.
Unite deputy general secretary Jack Dromey said: “Rogue gangmasters put life and limb at risk, flout employment rights and rip off the taxpayer. Rogues also undermine reputable employers.
“Extending the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Agency will make building sites safer, protect building workers and benefit the public purse by ending tax dodging,” he said.
Barber said: “Other recommendations in the report, including extending the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to include construction and revising building regulations so that health and safety is considered in building control, will help make construction sites safer places to work.
“The level of fatalities in this sector is totally unacceptable and we hope that the Government will act quickly to fully implement the recommendations contained in this report and so prevent more needless deaths,” he said.
Chairman of the CBI’s Construction Council, John McDonough, said: “Construction firms have worked hard to cut accident rates in recent years, and much progress has been made, but the number of deaths is still unacceptably high. These proposals by Rita Donaghy contain some worthwhile recommendations to improve health and safety across the industry.
“However, we do not believe licensing would be an effective way to reduce fatalities. The government should target resources on cracking down on firms that flout health and safety rules, rather than imposing an additional burden on law-abiding firms.
“Leadership in health and safety is already enshrined in the law. Therefore imposing further duties on directors would be a retrograde step and simply duplicate existing law.
“A full-time, dedicated minister for construction would help raise the profile of the industry, although our preference would be for an independent Chief Construction Officer, operating in a similar way to the Chief Scientific Adviser,” he said.
Rita Donaghy said: “The inquiry involved a widespread stakeholder consultation which generated a large amount of interest. I was eager to hear the views of as many people as possible and these are reflected in the report.
“I was keen to see what lessons we could learn from the root causes of construction accidents so that we can help to improve the health and safety of construction workers and I hope that Government and other stakeholders will welcome the recommendations.”
Commenting on the report, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Yvette Cooper said: “Despite the welcome recent fall in construction fatalities, any death or major injury is a tragedy for individuals, their families and their colleagues, and more work is needed to bring the number of accidents down.”