The government has launched a wide-ranging investigation into the dismal health and safety record of the construction industry – in particular, to find out whether employers are doing enough to protect their employees.
The inquiry was unveiled by the Department for Work and Pensions in December 2008, and will focus on the underlying causes behind the industry’s lack of success in reducing the number of injuries and fatalities.
More than 2,800 people have died from injuries received as a result of construction work in the past 25 years, and the sector, along with the offshore industry and agriculture, remains one of the most dangerous in the country.
Despite repeated safety campaigns and inspection ‘blitzes’ by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the fatality and injury rate in the industry – particularly falls from height – remains stubbornly high. Last year, 72 workers were killed in the sector, and 79 were killed in 2006-07.
The inquiry – which suggests the government is running out of patience with the HSE’s approach – will be led by Rita Donaghy, former chair of the conciliation service Acas.
Work and pensions secretary James Purnell said the high number of workplace fatalities continued to be a concern for the government.
“No-one can find it acceptable that this number of people have died directly as a cause of their work, and we are not making sufficient progress on preventing this total of human misery,” he said.
The construction industry union Ucatt said it welcomed the inquiry, but was concerned about Donaghy’s lack of a background in health and safety, construction or a similar dangerous industry.
It pointed to the casualised nature of the industry as being a key risk factor, along with a decline in inspections by the HSE, and management failings.
Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie said: “It is essential that ordinary construction workers who know and understand the risks they face are able to play a part in this inquiry. If the inquiry just becomes about faceless bureaucrats defending their own little fiefdoms, then it will not be a success.”