The RICS has urged the construction industry to provide basic English lessons to workers who do not speak the language.
It said this would probably reduce site deaths and also boost productivity. RICS construction faculty chairman Launce Morgan said one course was available in teaching English as a foreign language that could provide basic, intermediate or advanced lessons.

Morgan said that the influx of foreign labour was likely to continue, noting: "The single most helpful thing to offer a migrant worker would be to help them to learn the language of the country in which they are living and working."

He said that this would help construction businesses to be safe and productive. He said: "We believe foreign firms would also buy into the programme, as it might help them stay in the market."

Joe Martin of the RICS' building cost information service said workmen from abroad were often highly skilled but made mistakes because they did not understand English. He said: "Very often a group of men will have a leader who alone speaks English."

Contractors Carillion and Bovis offer on-site language training and the Construction Industry Training Board has conducted research in this area and is working on a pilot study to help people learn English.

The CITB has also called on the industry to develop a standardised system of signs for foreign workers to avoid confusion on sites.

Guidance issued by the Construction Confederation on language and foreign workers says that non-English speaking workers ought to avoid types of work that are deemed critical activities. The guidance says: "Critical activities may include those such as crane slinger/signaller, confined space working, and activities that require a permit-to-work system."

The guidance says that if safety is a prime consideration on a project there is a case for only employing English speakers.