Industry must meet tough safety standards or face harsh penalties, deputy prime minister says.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott has warned the industry to get its act together or face the consequences in his keynote speech at Tuesday's safety summit.

He warned some 700 delegates from industry firms that if they did not meet tougher safety targets he would bring in new legislation with harsher penalties. He also made it clear that he supported the introduction of roving safety representatives.

Prescott said that strategies to reduce the toll of deaths and injuries outlined by industry bodies represented a last chance to solve the safety problem by voluntary means without legal coercion.

He said: "I am looking to you to deliver what you have promised. But I have to warn you, that if you fail to turn this around, I will have no option but to use the opportunity given to me by the new safety bill." This bill, announced in the Queen's Speech last December and still under consultation, is expected to include penalties for directors of firms whose workers are injured.

Prescott said he welcomed any measures to improve health and safety but warned that a culture change was necessary.

He said: "Construction is a macho industry, which tends to undermine the essential requirement of a comprehensive safety culture." Prescott also told designers to put more thought into the safety requirements of constructing, repairing and maintaining buildings.

He added that action plans announced at the summit had not focused sufficiently on training managers and wanted improvements on that.

It is expected that the industry, which will have to report on progress twice a year, will be monitored by the Construction Industry Board and the pan-industry safety group CONIAC.

Construction minister Nick Raynsford said both central and local government needed to play their parts in ensuring a better safety culture.

The Office of Government Commerce is set to publish the health and safety records of all government departments and agencies, while firms that bid for government contracts will have their health and safety records scrutinised.

He said: "We are expecting industry to set the tone. It is not right to talk about a blacklist but those who do not have a good record will find it increasingly difficult to get contracts." Prescott's announcement that the government supports the introduction of roving reps represents a victory for the unions, which have been its most enthusiastic supporters. It is expected to be piloted at the end of April, and to run for 18 months.

Construction Confederation director of health and safety Suzannah Thursfield said the lack of detailed information about the scheme was frustrating. She said: "There is no definition of who will pay these people or what training they will have. We keep being told that this will be addressed during the pilot but that's not good enough." Bob Blackman, construction secretary of the T&G, said the funding of the scheme was still under discussion.

He said: "We have been talking to companies, including major contractors and clients, about the roving reps for some time. Some of them are embarrassed about what has been said on their behalf by the confederation."

Jack Lovell: It is up to us to change the industry

I think we all recognise that there’s something we each can do to change the industry’s health and safety culture, writes Jack Lovell. What I don’t think the summit addressed – and what is vital to driving home the health and safety message – is communication. We have got to be much more creative in how we communicate and “sell” the health and safety message. We have got to turn the prevailing macho culture of the industry on its head and make it sexy to take health and safety seriously. Why not enlist high-profile communicators or celebrities to endorse and promote the message and culture change from school-level upwards? Most importantly, let’s get the accident victims and their families together with all stakeholder groups to tell their story. Their message will do more to effect change than any prescriptive measure. Jack Lovell is director of health and safety at Morgan Sindall