Chairman of Major Contractors Group unveils three-point safety plan to halt rise in site deaths.
MAJOR Contractors Group chairman Keith Clarke this week warned against "knee-jerk" reactions to the industry's failing safety record as he unveiled the group's new safety proposals.

The three-point plan, drawn up this week, is the major contractors' attempt to show that self-regulation can improve health and safety on sites before other measures are imposed on them.

Clarke admitted that the accident figures, published last week, were "unacceptable" but said: "For once the industry is acting before it gets a kick up the backside. The industry is getting its act together.

"The last thing that is going to work is to do knee-jerk things that distract from underlying improvement initiatives."

Clarke said the MCG's safety plan would consist of publishing safety criteria to which members would have to adhere if they wished to retain membership; to have all site employees trained, including the whole supply chain of contractors and subcontractors; and to release clear, auditable standards for site induction.

Clarke added he was confident that the government would work closely with the industry to improve the safety record, which will be discussed at a summit next February.

He said: "We are quite sure that deputy prime minister John Prescott will be sensible in his actions and we are looking to work with him to take this forward constructively."

Clarke said he was against measures such as roving union representatives checking on site safety and the corporate manslaughter bill, which is currently before parliament.

He said: "We believe that regulatory people [HSE inspectors] should do inspections or the management of a site. Any confusion in that role is counterproductive."

Clarke added that the corporate manslaughter bill, which is not expected to pass into law during the current parliamentary session, was misguided.

He said: "Individual responsibility for site deaths already exists in the law. Just because it's not easy to prove someone guilty doesn't mean you should change the law. That's a Stalinist take on the law."

He emphasised that there was a need for consistent, industry-wide safety performance figures.

He said: "There is a whole mish-mash of data out there. There should be auditable performance standards in safety just as there are auditable company results."

The MCG has launched a working committee, led by Costain chief executive John Armitt, to push through the proposals in the summer. The MCG's aim to have the plan up and running in three years.

Clarke said, although the major contractors' safety record was 50% better than the industry standard, it was no cause for complacency.

He said: "It's quite that we should be able to lead by example. It's not to say we are good enough and not to say we are perfect. We should be better than that."

Peter Mason, chief executive of Amec, backed the MCG's move.

He said: "Amec is very concerned about the rise in site deaths across the construction industry and firmly believes that the major contractors have an important role to play in improving the industry's record."

The HSE figures recorded 62 deaths on site from April to September this year, compared with 39 for the same period last year – an increase of 59%.

The figures led government ministers Nick Raynsford and Beverley Hughes to call a meeting with construction leaders, including Construction Confederation president John Gains, last week to discuss solutions to the crisis.

How contractors are improving health and safety standards

Building surveyed major contractors to find out how they were reacting to the safety crisis. Here are some of the responses. HBG
The company places the emphasis on dialogue with site staff. It has introduced the Work Activity Safety Plan to provide a forum for operatives and management to exchange views before beginning a new activity. It is trialling site safety committees and has introduced the Positive Health and Safety Evaluation Programme to audit safety awareness across all HBG sites. Amec
Senior staff draw up personal safety performance contracts setting out their commitments to improving health and safety. Amec has made a safety audit – using the Health and Safety Executive’s Safety Climate Survey Tool – and introduced changes based on the findings. Supervisors and managers are trained in observation and communication techniques, in a programme called “Amec Safety Watch”, which aims to find the root cause of unsafe behaviour. Carillion
Main board directors have adopted a safety charter that requires them to carry out director safety tours. There is a group-wide safety committee, attended by managing directors, that oversees health and safety at the design stage. Carillion has reviewed its health and safety training programme and devised its own accredited course. Mansell
Three years ago Mansell introduced its integrated management system, which covers health, safety, welfare, environment, security and quality management objectives. All production management personnel attend a five-day Construction Industry Training Board safety training course. Balfour Beatty
The group’s policy was reviewed and revised this summer. Each part of the company now has action plans and each contract has a safety plan. Improved safety performance in the period 1994-9 has led to a 20% reduction in insurance premiums. Balfour admits that it has occasionally lapsed from its high standards, resulting in prosecutions.