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Parliamentary committee wants action on fatalities

The Health and Safety Executive needs to rethink its approach to site inspections and pursue more prosecutions for health and safety breaches, says an influential parliamentary committee.

Terry Rooney MP, chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, said its report on the Health and Safety Executive had revealed that not enough was being done to reduce construction-related fatalities.

In 2006/2007 construction site deaths rose by 28 per cent  compared to the previous year. The refurbishment sector is a particular concern.

Mr Rooney said: “I think they have to start re-thinking all their priorities. It needs to be more proactive. You can see a direct correlation between the rate of inspections and deaths. They have cut back on inspectors and we have now seen deaths going up. We undertook a report in 2004 which found similar issues. In the following three years nothing has changed.

“I am optimistic that the HSE will do something. The evidence speaks for itself and if they did not respond to this evidence I believe they would be guilty of mismanagement.”

Mr Rooney added that a voluntary code of conduct for directors on health and safety needed to be made statutory. He said: “The voluntary code has clearly failed and we are saying it should be mandatory. The voluntary approach just has not worked.”

The report said the number of construction inspectors had fallen to its lowest level for five years, with just 14  covering Greater London. The latest figures also show the HSE secured 339 convictions in the construction industry in 2006/2007. This is just one above the previous year and well below the 434 convictions secured in 2002/2003.

The report added: “In addition to the lack of inspections, we conclude that current levels of fines for health and safety offences are too low and do not provide a sufficient deterrent to ensure duty holders comply with their obligations. We would also like to see more innovative penalities to encourage compliance among employers.”

Penalties MPs would like considered include naming-and-shaming orders and corporate probation schemes – where companies are forced by courts to review their health and safety training and procedures or face further prosecution.

H&V News reported last year that unions wanted tougher action. In November Amicus and UCATT called for the Government to introduce mandatory duties for directors and in May a report by the Centre for Corporate Accountability highlighted that prosecutions had dropped dramatically. UCATT is now preparing to hold high-level talks with ministers and Government officials over whether health and safety regimes can be improved.

A spokesman for UCATT said: “We are slowly winning the case through force of evidence. We will be having further meetings with ministers and MPs on this issue in the weeks ahead. We feel there is a growing admission that something needs to be done.”

Bud Hudspith, Unite’s national health and safety officer, said: “The HSE needs more inspectors but there must also be a step change in enforcement with legally binding health and safety duties on company directors and senior managers. Only then will many companies take health and safety seriously and genuine efforts be made to reduce deaths, injuries and disease at work.”

A statement by Health and Safety minister Lord McKenzie said the Department for Works and Pensions was preparing a formal response to the report.