Ministers set to lay down the law at crisis meeting after HSE figures show 59% jump in deaths.
Government ministers yesterday summoned construction leaders to urgent talks over the rising death toll in the industry.

Construction ministers Nick Raynsford and Beverley Hughes called the meeting after the Health and Safety Executive announced a jump of 59% in site deaths.

The statistic torpedoes government targets of a year-on-year reduction of 10% in site accidents, and it is understood that the ministers will use the meeting to ask the industry how it intends to respond.

John Gains, president of the Construction Confederation, said the figures were unacceptable and said health and safety was the primary concern for the confederation.

He said: "Our accident statistics are too high. The fact that deaths are rising is very unsatisfactory. It has to be top of the Construction Confederation's agenda, and different parts of the confederation are focusing on different aspects of safety."

The HSE recorded 62 deaths on site from April to September this year, compared with 39 for the same period last year.

Bob Blackman, T&G construction secretary, urged major contractors to carry out safety training at all levels. He said: "I knew it had increased but I hadn't realised it was going to be this high. We have to have proper meaningful safety induction and a safety rep on every site who is there from the start of the job to the end."

The recommendations agreed at Thursday's meeting will form the agenda for a health and safety summit in February called by John Prescott and hosted by the DETR.

The Construction Confederation is also devoting its entire council meeting next month to tackling safety and will hold a summit meeting for confederation members on preventing falls from heights.

Our accident statistics are too high. The fact that deaths are rising is very unsatisfactory

John Gains, Mowlem

Brian Law, chief executive of the Association of Planning Supervisors, who was due to attend Thursday's meeting as part of the Construction Industry Council's delegation, called for more detailed data from the HSE.

He said: "We need a lot more information to determine how, where, when and by whom – not in order to blame, but to find ways of eliminating safety risks." The CIC was expected to present proposals to the DETR at the meeting but Law would not be drawn on what they were.

The Construction Products Association, also due at yesterday's meeting, intended to call for details of the accident statistics to understand what part materials played. The CPA also urged contractors and designers to tell it how to specify safer materials.

Meanwhile, Mace is raising its safety profile by starting a programme of meetings with subcontractors to raise awareness of safety issues.

John Armitt, chief executive of Costain, said major contractors had to lead by example. He said: "Major contractors recognise that we have to be seen to be getting our house in order. Statistically major contractors have a better safety record than the industry average but people expect us to lead best practice."

Brian Flint, deputy director-general of the Federation of Master Builders, called for the government to prohibit cowboy builders.

He said: "There is a massive illegal economy out there and loads of accidents happen in that market. The government have got to do something. "