Health and safety suffers as building projects fail to make concessions for multilingual workforce

The steep rise in construction deaths is due to the expansion of the European Union, according to a Labour MP.

Speaking at a Westminster debate on deaths in the construction industry, Jim Sheridan said that the 32% rise in deaths was “a particularly worrying trend” which could be linked to the influx of workers from Europe.

Migrant workers

Sheridan was quick to point out that he was not impugning migrant workers’ levels of skills and dedication, but that projects weren’t making enough concessions for an increasingly multilingual workforce.

He said: “We need to ensure only workers fully versed in all aspects of health and safety are working on British buildings sites.”

Conservative MP Andrew Selous agreed, using the example of a construction company where signs in the canteen were written in various different languages, but the safety signs on site were only written in English.

The debate covered the recent Ucatt report into the dip in corporate manslaughter convictions. Michael Clapham MP, who was responsible for the debate, said he wanted to draw attention to the “appalling” level of fatal incidents in the industry, and the HSE’s apparent failure to convict those responsible.

He said: “More needs to be done. Ucatt’s concerns deserve to be addressed to ensure a positive health and safety culture within the construction industry.”

The report, published last month, found that corporate convictions in the construction industry had dropped from 42% in 1998 to 11 per cent in 2004.

Clapham, who is chair of the Ucatt parliamentary group, said the results of Ucatt’s report mean there is a pressing need for another Construction Summit similar to that convened by John Prescott in 2001.

“The Department for Work and Pensions ought to be putting on another summit in the hope of revitalising the health and safety initiative, and ensuring fines for health and safety breaches are increased.”

Ann McGuire MP, speaking on behalf of the government, said: “The statistics significantly underestimate the number of conviction rates. The HSE prosecutes about half of fatalities, and 80% of these result in conviction. The HSE enforces robustly and takes any death at work very seriously.”