There will be a lot of legal change this year, with major revisions to immigration law, more stringent health and safety regs and a move to increase new homes’ energy efficiency
Last year was one of change for the construction industry and 2008 looks set to continue the trend. Some of the key issues that construction bosses need to be aware of are changes to immigration legislation, tighter health and safety regulations, measures to improve the energy efficiency of new homes and a clampdown on the disposal of site waste.
The expansion of the EU has helped to plug the construction skills shortage in the UK, but over the next five years, immigration law will be drastically revamped. The changes will affect employers in general, and the construction industry in particular, owing to its reliance on migrant workers. This is something that will no doubt increase in the run up to the 2012 Olympics.
At present there are 80 ways to enter and work in the UK. These are to be replaced with five entry routes, or tiers. The system, largely made up of work permits and visas that are processed separately, will be replaced with a single application process. Applicants within each tier will be judged on the basis of whether they have sufficient points for entry.
Health and safety continues to be a problem area for the industry. In the year 2006/07 the industry suffered the first rise in the number of construction deaths since 2000, with 77 fatalities, an increase of 28% on 2005/06. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced in September 2007 that one in three construction refurbishment sites put the lives of workers at risk and stopped work immediately on 244 out of 1,500 sites inspected under its rolling programme.
Working at height is the biggest cause of fatalities, but injury from a moving vehicle is the fastest growing risk area. One reason behind the upward trend may be that some construction employers are struggling to establish clear lines of communication and to correct substandard safety practices on site. This problem has been exacerbated by the number of migrant employees. The HSE has instigated initiatives to tackle this and has pledged to take enforcement action against those who allow bad practice on site to persist.
In 2008, the government and the HSE are expecting more from employers at board level. Directors will have to address the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, which comes into force on 6 April. An offence will be committed if there is gross negligence by employers, occupiers or service providers that leads to death.
The year 2006/07 saw the first rise in the number of construction deaths since 2000, with 77 fatalities
Following the consultation on the future of the Code for Sustainable Homes, the government has pledged to make the it mandatory for all new homes. This is likely to mark the continuation of the debate on energy performance certificates and home information packs.
These will allow developers to differentiate the performance of their homes from those of others and govern all issues to do with waste, water, pollution, materials and ecology. They will also, no doubt, take developers a little time to get used to.
Following last year's consultation on site waste management plans for the construction industry, it is anticipated that regulations will come into force in April making such plans compulsory in England.
The consultation concluded that of the 400 million tonnes of solid materials used each year, only two-thirds is added to the building stock; the rest is consigned to landfill. The industry can also anticipate stronger controls on the small but increasing amount of construction waste that is illegally dumped.
Ultimately, with these issues in mind, companies need to assess the policies they have in place and compare them with legal frameworks in order to identify where the gaps remain.
While any legislative changes affects the day-to-day workings of a business, the sooner preparations are made, the more likely is it that construction companies will be able to avoid any difficulties and inconvenience during 2008.
Ben Thornycroft and Nick Chronias are partners at national commercial law firm, Beachcroft