In 2001 the Government promised to look at construction health and safety. A document was produced called Revitalising health and safety, which produced some challenging targets, including:

  • To reduce the incidence rate of fatalities and major injuries by 40% by 2004/05 and by 66% by 2009/10
  • To reduce the incidence rate of cases of work-related ill health by 20% by 2004/05 and by 50% by 2009/10
  • To reduce the number of working days lost per 100,000 workers from work-related injury and ill health by 20% by 2004/05 and by 50% by 2009/10.

History records that the targets for 2004 were largely missed.

In 2008 the Government commissioned Rita Donaghy, Former chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services (ACAS), to carry out an enquiry and publish a report.

The result: One death is too many – Inquiry into the underlying causes of construction fatal accidents was published in 2009. The executive summary stated:

'There is a choice to make a change. Construction fatalities should become socially unacceptable and a change in attitude in society should be led by Government. Those already working hard to improve safety in construction – the Strategic Forum for Construction (SFfC), the TUC and trade unions, the safety experts, the HSE and campaign groups – deserve support in this endeavour. Whatever the differences in this fragmented industry – and there are many – this one element should unite all groups – To prevent death in the construction industry'.

The report came up with nearly 30 recommendations, including:

  • Extending the Building Regulations so that health and safety processes should be included when considering building control applications or building warrants
  • Introducing positive duties on directors to ensure good health and safety management
  • Extending and consolidating the use of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS)
  • Appointing a dedicated minster for construction with a coordinating brief
  • Encouraging joint working with the trade unions. Where there is no trade union presence, renewed efforts should be made to encourage genuine worker involvement
  • Reviewing health and safety education by the funders' councils and the professional bodies with a particular focus on practical steps and CDM.

Interestingly, several of these recommendations are quite similar to those made in 2001. The Government made a formal response in March 2010, detailing progress it has made, including:

  • Introduction of The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 with penalties of unlimited fines and (potentially) adverse publicity orders
  • Introduction of The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 which has custodial sentences as an option, as well as a fine, for a wider range of health and safety offences
  • The appointment in November 2009 of Paul Morrell as the first Chief Construction Adviser (CCA). The new role will provide a focal point for the construction sector, and Health and Safety should be one of the areas focused upon
  • Improvements in close working and communication between the HSE, employers, the unions and the workforce. Reiteration of support for education and awareness campaigns.

The Government is not, however, in favour of regulation through Building Control, although it recognizes that officers should give basic advice, such as identifying problems in submissions and pointing out dangerous practices on site.

Meanwhile, the latest news is encouraging. While all this was going on, deaths and accidents in the industry look like being the lowest for a decade. It is not yet clear how much improvement is down to the recession and therefore fewer workers, but all reductions are good.