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July 7, 2009

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Construction deaths report supports statutory directors’ duties

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has finally published the long-awaited report into the underlying causes of fatal accidents in the construction industry.

Published on 8 July, the report, One death is too many, resulting from the inquiry led by former ACAS chair Rita Donaghy, recommends extending the Building Regulations to include health and safety processes when building-control applications are being considered.

The report also calls for the Gangmasters (Licensing) Regulations to be extended to cover construction, and favours the introduction of statutory duties on directors to ensure good health and safety management.

The appointment of a full-time minister for construction is also proposed, to give the industry higher status within government.

Donaghy acknowledged the importance of the work of the HSE in ensuring industry compliance and a change in culture, but says it cannot succeed in significantly reducing the number of fatalities without the support of the public and government. It is also suggested that it needs extra resources, particularly in London, to be able to continue its work.

Among her 28 recommendations, Donaghy urges the HSE to review its communications strategy on fatalities and find more opportunities to publicise them. It should also conduct a pilot study on the merits of taking more proactive prosecutions where an accident has not yet occurred but unsafe working practices have been identified.

In addition, Donaghy recognises the importance of the occupational health of construction workers and calls for more investment in resources to boost the role of worker safety advisors and safety reps.

Hilda Palmer, acting chair of the Hazards Campaign and spokesperson for Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), welcomed the report. She told SHP: “We are very pleasantly surprised that the report goes as far as it does, particularly with regard to positive statutory duties on directors.”

She added: “We are also pleased with the recommendation that construction should be brought under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Regulations as there is so much underhandedness going on in the construction world, with its high levels of temporary and migrant workers, that desperately needs controlling.”

Palmer concluded: “The key will be whether the recommendations of the report are implemented.”

The report struck a chord with IOSH, too. Said the Institution’s Construction Group chair, John Lacey: “Many of the report’s recommendations pick up on issues raised repeatedly by IOSH over the years, including the need for strong leadership, greater worker involvement in health and safety issues, and better access to competent health and safety advice.

“It’s crucial that we also have an adequate enforcement regime, including increased resources for inspection at the HSE.”

Prospect, the union that represents HSE inspectors, also welcomed the report. Negotiator Mike Macdonald thanked Donaghy for her praise of HSE members’ professionalism and applauded her call for more inspectors in London, but added that the problem is not just limited to the English capital.

Similarly, while supporting the call for a pilot study into more non-accident prosecutions, Macdonald asked: “When are our members going to get the time to take such action? The Field Operations Directorate, of which HSE’s Construction Division is a part, already has more open fatal investigations on its books than it has front-line inspectors.”

The full report is available by clicking here.

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