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April 28, 2009

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Small-firm builders at greater risk of fatal injury, report claims

More than half of the building workers killed in 2007/08 worked for

small companies, despite such firms employing little over a third of

the construction workforce.

This is the main finding of a report written by the Centre for Corporate Accountability for construction union, UCATT, which wants more HSE inspectors to support a tougher regime of enforcement and prosecutions, and apply pressure on small construction companies “all year round”.

The report, Small isn’t beautiful, reveals that in 2007/08, 51 per cent of construction workers killed worked for companies with fewer than 50 employees — a disproportionately-high total, while almost half of these deaths occurred in companies that employed five or fewer workers (so-called micro companies). Figures from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) show that 34 per cent of the construction workforce are employed by small and micro-sized firms.

UCATT says the research also suggests a potential need to impose statutory directors’ duties on smaller firms, as well as medium and larger firms. General secretary, Alan Ritchie, said: “As the law stands a company boss is more likely to be sent to prison for not paying their taxes than killing one of his workers. It is an appalling state of affairs and sends a terrible message that we as a society consider life to be cheap.”

The report also provides information on who died, where they worked, how they died, and their age. According to the CCA, a report of this kind could not have been published until recently because the HSE refused to publish the names of those whose deaths were reported to it. The Executive is now obliged to provide the names of the deceased following a ruling by the Information Commissioner in July last year.

Added Ritchie: “Each and every one of these deaths is an individual tragedy. This report spells out in stark clear terms how each individual died. In order to achieve real improvements in safety it is vital not to hide behind statistics.”

Commenting on the report and the union’s demands, Brian Berry, director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), told SHP: “There is already a considerable amount of health and safety legislation in place but the real challenge is not more regulation but better enforcement of what already is in place with a strong emphasis on ensuring its practicality on site.

“We need to bring about a cultural change within the construction sector that takes health and safety more seriously. Better funding of the HSE would help, as would better advice to small firms and more access to training for all members of staff to help reduce the number of accidents and deaths on construction sites.
 
“The FMB encourages all building firms, particularly its members, to take advantage of the free publications available from the HSE, which are also available on the FMB website.”

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