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Shock rise in site deaths down to language barrier

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DEATHS ON construction sites have risen by 25% to 75 during 2006/7 according to preliminary gures collated by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

The HSE has put the rise down to the large number of immigrant workers on construction sites who have previously used less safe working procedures. Language barriers have also led to difculties enforcing health and safety practices, it said.

The construction fatality gure will be higher this year than last, ' said HSE's specialist inspector, West Midlands, Paul Thomas. 'This is due to immigrant workers and comes from my own experience in the Midlands. I would expect gures to be high to March 2007.' NCE understands that the 2006/7 gure stands at 75 fatalities - the highest number since 2001/2. The HSE recorded 57 deaths on-site in 2005/6 - the lowest number ever.

An HSE spokesperson said that the adjusted gures per 100,000 workers will not be available until November.

According to leading safety consultant John Carpenter the gures are not a surprise. 'In a short space of time you went from a situation with just a few sites with non-English speakers to one that is much more widespread, geographically and in numbers, ' he said.

The number of languages onsite is a real problem explained John Wilson, secretary to the Health & Safety committee at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association. 'When nonEnglish speakers arrive, briefings come through a ganger. If he is dual-language, then he can transfer instructions down the line, but signage is a problem.' Gangers may not speak all or any of the languages spoken on site.

Immigrant workers may also be unused to UK safety standards and engage in behaviour that could be dangerous on site.

'Migrant workers come with different working practices. Health and safety standards vary considerably, ' said Thomas.

Carpenter warns that the situation could 'be with us for some time, thanks to a worldwide migration of labour on a scale we have never before seen'.

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