Health and safety minister to tell summit departments can be exemplary clients by hiring only safe contractors

Health and safety minister Jane Kennedy will tell the industry at next week’s safety summit that the government can do more to improve construction’s safety record by acting as an exemplary client.

Kennedy is expected to announce a series of initiatives to emphasise the importance the government places on safety when procuring public sector projects. It is unclear whether this will involve mandatory rules for spending departments, as called for by the Major Contractors Group.

Kennedy said: “The public sector is a major client of the industry and is committed to exemplary standards of health and safety practice. Some departments are doing better than others. I will be announcing at the summit some further initiatives to help improve our performance.”

Kennedy will tell the industry that it has made progress on its safety record but that the industry needs to do more if it is to meet its 10-year improvement targets and to achieve a step change in health and safety performance.

The summit will also launch an initiative by the Major Contractors Group, which will announce it is shifting emphasis away from accident targets and towards more wholesale change.

The plans are outlined in a revised version of the MCG’s client Charter, which will be launched at the summit. The charter also announces the MCG’s commitment to a programme of site inductions and consultations to drive reform on safety, and sets guidelines for dealing with occupational health.

The charter will also emphasise the value of analysing “near misses” to improve safety performance. An MCG spokesperson said the decision to move away from accident targets was to encourage a zero-tolerance approach to safety offences.

He said: “Year-on-year incident targets imply that as long as you reduce accidents by a certain amount, it is fine if some people get killed or injured. But every death or injury is one too many. We want to drive through behavioural change in the industry.”

He added that the MCG would continue to report its accident figures each year, but would shift the emphasis away from a comparison with targets.

John Spanswick, MCG safety group chairman, said improving safety was about changing hearts and minds at the top rather than focusing on statistics. He said: “There needs to be a wholehearted commitment from the leaders of companies and only then will the culture filter down through the company.”