The HSE has asked for tougher penalties for safety breaches to cut accident rates in construction

The call was made last week when it published health and safety figures for 2003/04. These showed the rate of fatal injuries was 3.5 per 100,000 workers, a fall from 3.8 the previous year. The figures showed that 70 people died in each 12-month period.

Justin McCracken, deputy director general of the HSE, said that despite the improved figures, harsher financial penalties were required to act as a deterrent. He said: “Fines for health and safety breaches are far less than fines for financial offences. That doesn’t reflect the true values of society. These figures show an impressive improvement on past years, but there is still more to do.

“Construction is the industry we have targeted the most intensively, and we will continue to do so. It’s important that we have high-profile enforcement blitzes in order to tackle underlying causes of accidents.”

An HSE official noted that two fatalities were reported only last week underlining the need for high profile enforcement of safety rules to eliminate negligent practices. He said these two deaths were the result of falls, the most common accident in the industry, accounting for 28% of major injuries in 2003/04.

The figures also indicated that construction workers suffered more from ill health than workers in other industries.

Fines for safety breaches are less than for financial offences – that doesn't reflect true values

Justin McCracken, HSE

An estimated 4400 construction workers per 100,000 suffered an illness caused or made worse by their job. The average across all industries was 3700.

The figures showed that non-fatal injuries fell from 1143 per 100,000 to 1019 per 100,000 over the year.

n European construction bodies have signed a declaration setting out five steps to improve health and safety standards. The Bilbao declaration, announced at the European Construction Safety Summit earlier this week, includes proposals to ensure health and safety is addressed in the design and planning stages of projects.