Construction Confederation boss says HSE needs more inspectors to blitz sites and target cowboy builders

Construction industry leaders have renewed calls for the government to provide more money for safety inspectors in the wake of last week’s figures on deaths at work.

The Health and Safety Executive’s report on fatal injuries showed that there has been no improvement in the past year, with 70 deaths on sites.

Among the first to call attention to the lack of funding for HSE inspectors was Steven Ratcliffe, chief executive of the Construction Confederation. The confederation has been running a campaign to obtain a better deal for the HSE’s inspection team for a year. It also wants more prosecutions of companies that fail to comply with industry safety practices.

Ratcliffe said that the HSE’s figures vindicated the confederation’s campaign, saying: “Seventy deaths is 70 too many.”

Death toll on British sites over the past 12 years
Death toll on British sites over the past 12 years

He believed that the HSE could play a vital role in reducing the number of deaths but only if it receives greater financial support.

He said: “At present, the HSE focuses its energy on blitzing inner-city construction firms, which are sitting targets.”

The HSE needed to target cowboy builders to make a difference, he said, adding: “But that is resource-intensive, and requires far more ground forces than now available’.

Seventy deaths is seventy too many

Steven Ratcliffe, chief executive of Construction Confederation

Michael Brown, deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Building, also criticised the lack of funding of the HSE. “Too many of our workforce are not protected from the dangerous conditions that can be found when health and safety procedures are not applied. We want to see the HSE receive the necessary funds from government to inspect those workplaces that are the very source of the problem”.

The HSE report showed that falls accounted for 38 fatalities and that four people have been killed in trench collapses since April.

Bill Callaghan, chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, which is responsible for the HSE, said: “Often simple measures are not being put in place”.

A recent report by the work and pension select committee claimed that the number of field health and safety inspectors would have to double in order to counter the high rates of work-related accidents. It recommended an extra £48m in government funding over a seven-year period.

The HSE report Statistics on Fatal Injuries says 70 construction workers have been killed on site in the past year. This is the same as the figure for 2002/03, although the rate of deaths per 100,000 has declined from 3.8 to 3.5 as there are more workers.

Deaths in construction accounted for 30% of Britain’s worker fatalities during 2003/04. This is 11% more than agriculture, the sector with the second highest number of deaths.