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September 10, 2008

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Government orders inquiry into construction deaths

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has asked for an investigation into recent deaths in the construction industry from the HSE.

Geoffrey Podger, the HSE’s chief executive, said in a report to the HSE’s Board that Secretary of State (SoS) James Purnell had undertaken to commission the inquiry from the HSE at a meeting on vulnerable workers at 10 Downing Street.

He said that although scrutiny of fatal accidents is already carried out within the HSE’s construction division, he saw the new inquiry as “an opportunity to gather valuable intelligence that can help shape future strategy”.

Podger explained that the HSE proposed to carry out its investigation by, among other things, engaging independent external researchers to examine the underlying causes of fatal accidents in construction, including vulnerability, and identify levers for change both within and beyond the health and safety system. He said the research will be phased, in order to deliver early information.

A HSE spokesperson said it had been asked to look into construction fatalities and it was taking that work forward. However, it could not comment further, as it was duty bound to report to the SoS on its findings.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, said the union was pleased that the government intends to go ahead with the investigation, as it had been lobbying for it. “We believe that it needs to be robust and look into all areas of the construction industry to get to the bottom of why death rates in the construction industry are so high,” he said.

“Without Ucatt’s campaign, this inquiry would not be happening. We will be submitting evidence and playing a full role in the inquiry.”

A DWP spokesperson commented: “Ensuring all construction sites adhere to the highest health and safety standards is essential. We and the HSE are always looking at ways to improve health and safety further.”

According to the HSE there were 72 fatal injuries in construction in 2007/08, a rate of 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers. The average yearly rate over the last five years has been 3.6.

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