EU WATCH — The European Construction Safety Forum recently staged a conference to assess policies that aim to improve the construction sector’s health and safety record.

The construction industry is one of the poorest-performing sectors in terms of health and safety. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work says more than 1000 people in the EU are killed and thousands more injured in accidents at work every year, while many more suffer occupational illnesses. Although progress has been made, the organisation says there is plenty of room for improvement.

At the European Construction safety summit in Bilbao in 2004, the industry set out to tackle the issue. It agreed a set of policies in the Bilbao Declaration and set up the European Construction Safety Forum to implement them.

So what were the new policies? The first covers procurement. It recognises that health and safety is an integral part of design – especially the opportunity to design out risk – and equally vital to construction, maintenance and demolition. It also recognises that many on-site problems could be avoided if due consideration was given at the design and procurement phases.

Enforcement is another element. Here, the responsibility is with governments to improve compliance. However, this can never just be about monitoring, particularly given the number of small- and medium-sized enterprises. In conjunction with better compliance, there should be a commitment to producing guidelines to better describe good practice through the project preparation phase, to ensure everyone is aware of their obligations in terms of health and safety.

More than 1,000 people are killed and thousands injured while working in the construction industry in Europe every year

The final commitment is about improving health and safety performance through social partner commitment: enterprises (of all sizes) on the one hand and workers on the other working together towards agreements on improvements. In what is one of the highest-risk sectors, practical measures here include accident reduction targets and training.

In September, the forum held a public event to report on what has been achieved since the summit and what still needs to be done. The meeting brought together the key players from the European parliament, the commission, the EU labour inspectorates and other national government representatives. It was a rare opportunity for EU decision-makers to hear the full gamut of industry opinion as to what can be done to improve the health and safety of those 12 million people directly employed in the sector.

One outcome from that meeting was that it was agreed to draw up an evaluation report on how member states are implementing improvements. The report is due to be released before the end of the year.