Tougher safety laws would save lives, says construction union

A leading construction union has accused the government of complacency about workplace safety which is putting employees’ lives at risk.

Ucatt warned that the government’s failure to toughen up company directors’ responsibilities for health and safety at work would lead to more deaths. But if statutory duties were introduced there would be a possibility that directors who deliberately flouted health and safety laws could be imprisoned, it said.

The union made its comments after the government published its response to the recent Work and Pensions Select Committee report on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The government reiterated its support for self-regulation and limited inspections, stating: “Changes in employer motivation cannot solely be achieved through increased inspections. The prime factor which governs whether there are fatalities, injuries or ill health at work is the motivation of the employer.”

Alan Ritchie, Ucatt general secretary, said: “Self-regulation does not work in dangerous, casualised industries such as construction. By talking about the importance of giving ‘advice and guidance’ ministers and HSE chiefs give the impression that they think it is more important to stuff education material into envelopes than inspect sites.”

Official figures released earlier this week showed that the number of people killed at work in the UK fell slightly last year. HSE statistics showed 228 people lost their lives as a result of accidents or incidents at work in 2007-08, compared to 247 workers in 2006-07.

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