First person - This government has done a huge amount for construction, but it needs to realise that bureaucracy does not stop accidents.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, construction minister Nick Raynsford and their DETR team have, in my experience, done more for the construction industry than any other government department in 35 years.

Their zeal in cajoling a largely unwilling industry to start the process of integrating design and project management and modernising its procurement procedures was just the catalyst we needed for change, and moving away from our traditional, adversarial, regulated culture to one of partnering, mutual trust and equitable risk sharing is an essential part of that change.

Yet ironically, the overriding feature of Tony Blair's government is that it has been the most regulatory for more than 50 years. And many of those regulations have been (despite spin to the contrary) directed against that Old Labour enemy, the wicked employer, and in construction, the even more wicked main contractor employer.

In particular, safety and the government's approach to the unacceptable three-year rise in fatal accidents on site still follows the line of overregulation and prosecution, rather than the modern approach of open-book partnering. The government's safety policy appears to be driven by blame transfer and back protection, and it forces safety into the maelstrom of politics, collective bargaining and cut-price contracting.

Because there are far too many external regulators scoring points by rubbishing what they do, construction managers have had to concentrate, as a priority, on establishing enough bureaucracy to protect themselves against these attacks. There are about 80 acts of parliament and sets of regulations applicable to construction safety, including the well meaning but clearly ineffective Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, which fill up our hard drives with risk assessment procedures but fail to get the information to the workers on site.

Prescott needs the courage to accept that levels of regulation and inspection have gone over the top. The last thing the industry needs now is the further demonisation of employers by setting union flying pickets on them. Instead, we need to extend some of the innovative Rethinking Construction principles into safety management.

If we are to save lives, the government must drastically simplify and consolidate the regulations. Health and Safety Executive "police" should be turned into "support staff", the principal contractor given absolute authority over the safety of design and construction and all interference from external consultants banned. Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • The independent planning supervisors have proved to be totally ineffective; they have to go. Responsibility should be given back to principal contractors and the planning supervision fee used to fund safety measures directly.

  • The present risk assessment procedures should be kept and improved. Safety planning as a site management discipline – thinking ahead about hazardous operations and planning safe working methods to tackle them – is working. Without the excessive bureaucracy, it would work even better.

    Government safety policy seems to be driven by blame transfer and back protection

  • The CDM principle that clients, designers, specifiers and subcontractors have responsibility for safety should be kept, and extended to manufacturers, subject to the overriding authority of the principal contractor.

  • The industry, working with clients and the HSE, should devise safer working practices for fast-track contracts.

  • The government should give five years' notice that it is banning the sale of all hazardous products and one year's notice that it is banning overweight products such as large concrete blocks that are likely to be handled by one person.

    The key to making our industry safer, however, is to inform, educate and involve everyone on site. This can be done by:

  • Developing short and simple induction and toolbox talks with video clips and CD-ROMs.

  • Site managers issuing a "yellow card" to operatives (copied to their employer) who will not comply. Two yellow cards means a dismissal from site.

  • Instructing every subcontractor to nominate a safety representative from within its site staff to work constructively with site managers. This is not buck-passing, as overall responsibility is not transferred, but it would lend several more pairs of ears and eyes to support safe working efforts.

  • Making 2001 the year of zero accidents.