Construction deaths rise as cuts are ushered in
The number of deaths in the construction industry rose by around 15 per cent last year, fuelling concerns that the cost-cutting measures being implemented by the HSE will reverse the downward trend of recent years.
The regulator’s head of construction, Philip White, revealed the increase at a conference in London yesterday (5 April) on Safety Schemes in Procurement, indicating that competence – or lack of it – was “clearly a feature” in many of the fatalities.
Speaking to SHP after the event, Mr White emphasised that the figures are completely provisional and unverified at this early stage (the final figures for the 2010/2011 period will not be published until the end of this year) but HSE monitoring of the reports coming into it between April 2010 and March 2011 indicated a rise of around 15 per cent on last year’s low of 42 deaths.
Mr White said the rise cannot be seen as statistically significant yet, but the HSE “will be keeping an eye on the trend, and if it goes up again over the next 12 months, we will have to look closely at the causes of that”.
According to construction union UCATT, the cuts to the HSE’s budget and subsequent easing off in inspection and enforcement activities will not help. Acting general secretary George Guy told SHP: “The increase in fatalities underlines just how dangerous construction remains, and this increase in deaths has come before there has been any meaningful recovery in the industry. Following all previous recessions there has been a marked increase in construction fatalities, as new, inexperienced companies and workers enter the industry.
“Given the cuts being faced by the HSE and the existing dearth of inspections and enforcement activity, it is all too probable that deaths will continue to rise in the industry.”
Philip White was adamant that construction remains a priority industry for the regulator, and that there will be no drop in the number of front-line construction inspectors, other than those coming to the end of fixed-term contracts this summer. He admitted, however, that now that the first period under the spending review is underway, “we will need to see how we manage over the next 12 months”.
The focus during that period, he said, will be on the smaller operators in the industry, “as that is where the biggest problems still lie”.
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