Former Government Advisor Warns UK Construction Industry About Safety Standards

Inexperienced Workers Will Lead To A Rise In Deaths Following HSE Funding Cut

17.04.2014

Former government adviser on health and safety issues, Baroness Donaghy, says there is a severe risk of serious injuries and a rise in deaths as building activity picks up during the recovery of the recession.

Since 2001, 760 workers have died in industrial accidents on UK building sites and site related deaths have doubled recently in London, where the construction industry is growing the strongest.

Donaghy wrote the report ‘One Death Too Many’ for the previous Labour government in March 2010, which called for more funding to allow the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to function properly as a regulator. She is now said to have been appalled by a 35% cut in the HSE’s budget in 2011, believing it could lead to employers cutting corners.

"If there is an upturn, as is obviously happening in London, there is a danger that skills have been lost during the recession, and people who are insufficiently skilled will be taken on. And that's when the deaths and accidents will start taking place," commented Donaghy.

She added: "I do believe that if the recession is ending, the number of accidents will increase. Is it a ticking time bomb? Possibly right, yes. There is a real danger, without a well-resourced HSE, that corners will be cut."

In the last two decades, the industry has taken on increasing numbers of casual workers and only 10% of construction workers are trade union.

A freedom of information request by Ucatt, the construction workers union, showed a 7% fall in 2011-12 and 2012-13 of unannounced inspections of construction sites, though the HSE said the total number of inspections had risen in 2013-14.

Steve Murphy, the general secretary of Ucatt, said: "I sincerely believe the construction industry is chaotic. And deaths on sites will tragically rise in the next year."

The chief inspector for construction at the HSE, Heather Bryant, said the organisation was one of its priority areas and that it was adequately resourced.

Expert Opinion
The statistics revealed by Baroness Donaghy are simply shocking, and the predictions by Ucatt of increased deaths on construction sites gives great cause for concern indeed.

“If staff are not qualified or sufficiently skilled enough to complete the task at hand, this will mean it may not be conducted in the right manner and strict health and safety guidelines will be ignored.

“Not having the right staff along with a combination of reduced HSE inspections could lead to a continuation of injuries and in some cases fatalities.

“We know all too well the consequences and catastrophic injuries that can be caused through poor health and safety as we have helped thousands of people through their rehabilitation after they have been involved in life-changing incidents in the workplace.”
Colin Ettinger, Partner