Minister challenges industry to eliminate all site deaths as public sector is targeted with mandatory safety policy

Construction minister Nigel Griffiths has called on construction firms to adopt a policy of zero tolerance to site fatalities and accidents.

Griffith’s challenge came as health and safety minister Jane Kennedy announced that the government was to introduce a mandatory health and safety policy for public sector projects.

However, Kennedy admitted that she was not confident that the industry would meet its 10-year improvement targets, despite the launch of a number of government and industry initiatives.

Griffiths, who made his zero tolerance call during a keynote speech at the summit in Westminster, said the industry owed it to workers to meet his challenge. He told delegates at the meeting on Thursday: “We have zero tolerance for violent crime. It’s time we set zero tolerance for construction deaths and serious injuries.”

Griffiths said the task would be to build on the target set by John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, at the 2001 summit. Prescott told the industry to reduce its death rate 66% by 2010.

Griffiths said: “John Prescott set you a challenge four years ago. Today I set you an even greater one – it is to eliminate all deaths. Why? Because I believe every death in construction is avoidable.”

Griffiths’ tough stance was backed by several industry figures, including John Spanswick, chairman of the Major Contractors Group.

The fatality rate in the industry fell last year to a record low

Jane Kennedy

Spanswick said: “It is not just about statistics and fatality rates. It should be about changing hearts and minds at the very top of organisations. A zero tolerance policy is key to achieving this.”

Kennedy acknowledged in her speech that the government as client could be doing more to improve the situation, and announced that later this year the government would introduce key minimum procurement standards that would be mandatory across central government, including departments, agencies and non-departmental bodies.

Kennedy told delegates: “Public bodies must show leadership by committing to exemplary standards of health and safety practice in their construction projects. We already have the Office of Government Commerce’s guide on health and safety. This will be enhanced when mandatory standards are launched.”

Kennedy said the government was reviewing its procurement systems to promote best practice. She said: “I’m not going to say the public sector always gets it right. We are committed to doing more.”

She added that the Health and Safety Executive would be piloting an occupational health guide aimed at small and medium-sized firms that would help them to manage issues such as workers’ sickness.

Kennedy said: “We can take some encouragement that the rate of fatalities in the industry fell last year to the lowest on record. But that provides little comfort to the families of those who have lost their lives. There are still far too many avoidable incidents, and it’s still not possible to say with confidence that the industry will meet its 10-year targets. And we must not forget that the figures for ill health show that, at best, performance is flat.”

Safety summit in brief

Name-and-shame threat
The strategic forum has introduced a Respect for People code covering good health and safety practice. Peter Rogers, the chairman of the forum, said that firms would be named and shamed if they failed to sign up to the code, which will monitor progress in eight areas.

The National House Building Council has pledged its support to the initiative. Chief executive Imtiaz Farookhi said it hoped it would have an influence on everyone, from executive to site worker.

Skills audit planned
The Joint Major Contractors Group, a trade body for M&E engineers, is to audit sites to check the extent of ownership of CSCS skills cards. The audit will cover directly employed staff, subcontract and agency workers.

SEC safety rules
The Specialist Engineering Contractors Group has established a “safe site” access certificate. This is intended to enable a main contractor to identify safety requirements before workers go on to a site. The SEC Group also announced initiatives for integrating design teams and rationalising safety prequalification schemes.

Health and safety charter
The Major Contractors Group has launched a revised health and safety charter, focusing on changing workers’ behaviour, construction site inductions and sharing accident information between member companies.

Firm fined £30k for site death
Scaffolding firm Crowe Fabrications has been fined £30,000 after a worker died dismantling equipment in 2002.

Occupational health blitz
The Health and Safety Executive will carry out an occupational health blitz on construction sites across Britain this month. The blitz will target problems such as untidy sites, poor lifting and carrying procedures, and the unsafe use of wet cement and hand-held vibrating equipment.