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Mr. Meacher : The Opposition have chosen to debate safety in the construction industry because it represents a microcosm of the rising toll of preventable carnage that has affected all our industries over the last 10 years. The facts are not in dispute. Last year 157 building workers were killed on site, nearly one quarter of them in London alone. The number of fatal and major accidents is up by no less than two thirds on 1981, and on average a construction worker is killed or seriously injured every hour and less serious accidents occur every two minutes. Those are Government figures. They are shocking enough, but, by concentrating on the immediate causes of fatal and major accidents, even those figures ignore the far greater number of construction-related deaths, as many as 4,000 a year, caused later by bronchitis, cancer and other diseases of dust and lousy working conditions.
The Health and Safety Executive lays the blame for all this with the employers. According to "Blackspot Construction", the publication of the Health and Safety Executive in June last year, 90 per cent. of deaths on building sites could have been prevented, and at least 70 per cent. were directly due to the negligence of management. The Government accept no responsibility. With regard to building sites, the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State told the House earlier this year, with mind-blowing complacency, that he was
"confident the law is already being enforced stringently."--[ Official Report, 17 January 1989 ; Vol. 145, c. 168. ]
Let us consider the facts. There are only 85 construction inspectors for the entire country. In London there are only 12 who have to cover 200,000 building sites, so that each inspector is responsible for 17,000 building sites. If that is what the Under-Secretary calls stringent enforcement of the law, let us compare it with the near doubling of the number of social security fraud inspectors by the Government. If only the Government were as anxious to stop death and serious injury in the workplace as they are to stop benefit fraud, we would not have half the number of accidents.
How can the Minister seriously claim that the law is being enforced stringently when in London last year there were 36 deaths on construction sites and 413 major injuries, but there were only 18 prosecutions? The average fine was a piffling £1,050, scarcely even pocket money for some major construction firms. How is the law being enforced stringently when no action was taken on more than half the sites where a death or major injury occurred?
In their amendment the Government have found only two measures which they have taken to halt the rising toll
Column 798of death and serious injury and those are enforcement blitzes and publicity campaigns-- [Interruption.] I am surprised that Conservative Members are so disinterested in this subject and the rising roll call of death that they find it amusing to talk of other matters when this high level of carnage is happening in the industry as a result of the Government's omissions.
Clearly the news has not trickled through to the Secretary of State for Employment that enforcement blitzes and publicity campaigns have been dismissed as inadequate by the Health and Safety Executive. The HSE notes about publicity that there was no improvement in site safety where the agent or supervisor knew of the blitz campaign compared with where they did not. The HSE also refuted the Secretary of State's claims in the Government's amendment by concluding : "Clearly even a high level of publicity does not on its own achieve improved safety on sites."
We await further proposals from the Government about these problems, but so far they have produced none.
The Government fair no better with their blitz campaigns. The HSE found that there was no significant reduction in death and serious injury on construction sites during the campaigns. That is a pretty sobering conclusion. The HSE also found that the issuing of prohibition notices during the two years of blitzes also revealed no significant improvement in site safety. That is not the Labour party view ; it is the view of the HSE. So much for the way in which the Government hyped the blitzes as a great success.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : With regard to publicity and the Government taking these matters seriously, the Government do not even appear to be taking this debate seriously, because the Secretary of State for Employment is not going to answer these very important points about safety on construction sites. He is too busy creating mayhem in the docks.
Mr. Meacher : Anyone watching our proceedings and seeing that there are only seven or eight Conservative Back Benchers here, compared with many more Labour Members, will draw the right conclusion about the importance which the Government attach to health and safety. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) is aware, when the Secretary of State for Employment made his statement about the dock labour scheme the Conservative Benches were full to brimming because the Conservatives want confrontation. They are not interested in health and safety.
There would be a real difference in the position if there were proper deterrent penalties. However, the Secretary of State will not impose such penalties. On 6 January The Independent reported : "Mr. Fowler does not support calls for top company personnel to be jailed where health and safety has been flouted. He hoped safety breaches would be taken very seriously indeed' by the courts" even though he knows that there is abundant evidence that that will not happen. The Independent continued quoting the Secretary of State, who said :
"I do not think we should go to the lengths of sending people to prison."
Perhaps we should not go to the lengths of sending people to their deaths on manifestly unsafe building sites. The Independent continued :
Column 799"His department was looking at' the use of television to advertise the safety message. The medium has been heavily used to promote Government training schemes."
That is certainly true. Obviously the Secretary of State can find £4 million to revive his flagging employment training programme, but that only involves taking people off the unemployment register. When it comes to paying for media coverage to save people's lives, the Secretary of State is only "looking at" the matter. What a stark difference.
Our case is not just that the Government's record on health and safety in the construction industry is limp and feeble, even though it certainly is ; it is much more serious than that. In their amendment, the Government conveniently place all the blame on "employers and others on site ;"
Our central contention is that the Government have wilfully generated a commercial climate in which employers are forced to make a choice between getting business and safety, and workers are forced to make a choice between keeping their jobs and safety-- [Interruption.] I am glad that the Secretary of State for Employment has finally decided to join us. However, we are disappointed to learn that he does not regard health and safety as sufficiently important to address the House and has delegated this task to his junior. By encouraging a climate of unrelenting commercial pressure while failing to enforce safety standards, the Government have undermined 100 times over such small health and safety intitiatives as they have taken. The climate of intensified competition, of reduced contract times and heavy penalty clauses for delay have helped to squeeze health and safety out of money contracts.
Mr. Len Dodds, the chief safety adviser to Balfour Beatty, one of our major construction firms, has said :
"It does appear that to obtain a satisfactory safety performance on major construction projects a minimum figure of between 6-7 per cent. of total labour costs should be allowed Responsible contracting companies have been seriously disadvantaged by the cowboy element in our industry under-cutting prices, which inevitably means ignoring safety provisions."
In other words, the untrammelled commercial pressures unleashed by the Government, combined with their abject failure to enforce proper safety standards, have, according to a senior construction executive, caused the safety margin to be squeezed out. That is the essence of our charge against the Government.
There is an estimated £12 billion worth of building work going on at present in London and the south-east, a much higher level than for many years. Clients are taking advantage of the current no holds barred business climate to demand completion from contractors in record time. However, at the same time, more building workers are self-employed and at the mercy of the casualisation of the industry which has created a huge hire and fire labour turnover.
The truth is not the Government's facile view about the causes of the rising level of accidents. The root of the worsening record of the construction industry lies in the lack of training. In the White Paper published last November the Government are once again reviving the proposal to end the construction industry training board. The roots of the problem lie with the failure to enforce current safety legislation, the increase in casual labour, the
Column 800decline in union membership, which the Government have done their best to encourage, the increasing fragmentation of the industry and the growth in sub-contracting.
The Secretary of State's response to all that has been pitifully narrow minded. The Government are planning to make the wearing of hard hats compulsory on construction sites. That response was given on 17 January. No one would disagree with that ; it should have been done many years ago. However, it completely misses the point about the wider structural causes of the rising toll of death and serious injury. The Government's only concession is contained in the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), on 17 January when he said :
"Health and Safety Executive inspectors will also be paying more attention to the quality of site management and its ability to manage health and safety."--[ Official Report, 17 January 1989 ; Vol. 145, c. 147.]
That is a noticeably vague statement. What he does not say is how that is to have any cutting edge when each inspector in London has to deal with 17,000 building sites apiece.
I want to make it clear to the House that the Labour party gives a far higher priority to health and safety than do the Thatcherite Government with their unfettered commercialism. I want to spell out briefly a seven- point programme which would transform the appalling safety record which the Secretary of State's current laxity has produced.
First, we will bring forward a charter for employees which will give equal status to all workers, part time as well as full time, which cannot be signed away on the demand of an employer for a new contract or, as with the lump, ignored because there is no contract. Under our proposals, all workers currently employed as lump labour will be covered by basic rights on pay, conditions of work, employment practices and health and safety. In effect, the lump will no longer exist and one of the fundamental causes of the worsening accident record in construction will be removed.
Secondly, we will increase the number and the role of the inspectorate and union safety representatives. On larger sites safety representatives should be full time. If convenors are in larger firms, why not safety representatives on larger sites? We shall also introduce the important concept of roving safety representatives who will have the right to inspect any site in their area either at their own instigation or on the invitation of those who work on that site. For the first time, that will give a measure of safety to building workers who believe that their lives are being put at risk by dangerous working conditions.
Thirdly, we will outlaw blacklisting. According to the booklet entitled "Against Democracy : the True Story of the Economic League", which was published last year, Service Group companies, contruction's self-sufficient organisation within the Economic League,
"just call people troublemakers' blacklisting on grounds of health and safety activity is the most common thing."
Instead of that disgraceful state of affairs where people are victimised simply because they complain about inadequate health and safety provision, we shall guarantee the right of individual workers to be represented by trade unions on a number of issues, including health and safety.
Fourthly, we will use contract compliance to ensure that at least minimum health and safety standards are
Column 801always adhered to in the awarding of Government contracts and, indeed, on all public contracts which involve public expenditure. Fifthly, we will make it clear that responsibility for site safety is placed squarely on the main contractor, whatever the management arrangements on a particular site. That is of great importance because it effectively remedies the present dissipation of control and responsibility where there is a series of sub-contractors. The Health and Safety Executive regards that as one of the major causes of rising accidents.
That also provides an answer to something that the Secretary of State should be considering--the alarming finding by the Health and Safety Executive that on one in every five sites visited there was no site agent and no supervisor available. Our measure would provide an answer to that by squarely putting the responsibility where it should lie--on the client and the main contractor.
Sixthly, we shall see that the Health and Safety Commission takes a stronger line. I know from my contacts that many inspectors would wish it so to do. We shall require the commission to record its decisions and to make them publicly available in order to discourage employer representatives from seeking to veto safety initiatives. We shall also encourage the executive to prosecute senior management under its powers under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to appeal against light sentences--the Government are perfectly prepared to do that in other cases, so why not for health and safety?--and to invite the police to make manslaughter charges in cases of gross neglect.
Seventhly, penalties for negligence that causes death or serious injury must be tough enough to counter powerful commercial pressures, as I have outlined. At present, fines are laughable, if not insulting to the families of those who die or who are maimed. For example, Balfour Beatty, whose pre- tax profits for 1987 were £130 million, was fined just £2,700 after being found criminally guilty of three health and safety offences on three occasions during 1986. That is rather like using a nut to crack a sledgehammer. Such fines are pathetic and inadequate.
The horrific level of deaths and maimings at work will be reversed only by making negligent management liable to hefty gaol sentences. Dangerous driving that kills is subject to the punishment of a gaol sentence and dangerous management in the workplace that kills should be similarly punished, as it is already in the United States, Italy and Sweden.
We agree with Dr. John Cullen, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, who last month said :
"I believe that there have been circumstances where employers should have been jailed I think that a jail sentence would help concentrate the minds of employers who might not be carrying out their duties under health and safety laws."
Only the Secretary of State is ready to send people to prison for benefit fraud, but not employers who cause other people's death at work.
We have a programme to match our determined commitment to higher health and safety standards. It represents a huge advance on the facile and cosmetic approach of the Government who, whenever there is a choice, put profit above safety every time. We may well make life harder for negligent employers--a few famous
Column 802collars in jug would work wonders for health and safety--but it would be a small price to pay for safeguarding the lives and limbs of millions of our working people.
deploring the high accident rate on construction sites and noting that 90 per cent. of construction accidents are preventable, recognises that the prime responsibility for safety lies with employers and others on site ; acknowledges the vigorous action which the Health and Safety Commission and Executive have taken through enforcement blitzes and publicity campaigns on construction safety ; and welcomes the increased provision which the Government has made available to the Health and Safety Executive thereby enabling the Executive to increase the number of inspectors employed on construction work.'.
It may surprise the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to learn that I very much welcome the debate and the opportunity that it gives to draw attention to the dangers of the construction industry and what is being done about it, but I deplore the hon. Gentleman's efforts to twist those dangers into political point scoring. The hon. Gentleman is hopelessly over the top in his political invective. We are used to that. It is so normal that I was able to write that firmly into my speech without even listening to him. As usual, it damages his case--which I do not mind-- but today it also damages the message that should go out from the House which should be one of clear and universal support for the Health and Safety Commission and Executive in what they are doing to reduce the carnage in the construction industry.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, for more than 15 years we have had a health and safety regime, run by the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. Parliament made the HSC the primary body in health and safety, recommending legislation and enforcing the laws we pass. The HSC's work, quite rightly, is based on elaborate consultation, and it has a whole family of committees, both technical and consultative. The HSC and those committees have on them representatives of trade unions as well as employers and others. It is very important that the HSC and HSE have the backing not only of Ministers--which they have, in full--but of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
The consultative procedure is sometimes slow but it delivers wide support for the measures that it produces, and that is valuable. Opposition Members should welcome that and support the HSC if they value it, because consultation is an essential prerequisite of safety at work on construction sites and elsewhere. It is the people on site--management and employees-- who can do most to improve safety. However, there is no doubt that it needs improving.
There are too many accidents and deaths on construction sites. As the hon. Gentleman said, in 1987-88 there were 157 deaths--about one in three of work-related fatalities--and many more accidents resulting in injuries. Some were serious while others, thankfully, were less so. That adds up to waste, inefficiency and lost time. More importantly, it adds up to a catalogue of pain, suffering and grief.
Mr. Cope : More importantly, everyone concerned must recognise that construction and demolition work is inherently dangerous. A building site is essentially a temporary workplace. Its condition, by definition, changes day by day, with different tradesmen arriving at the site and leaving it daily. It has a changing population and changing conditions to a much greater extent than does a factory or other fixed site. However, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West also said very fairly, many of the 157 deaths were avoidable. Last year's report by the Health and Safety Executive, "Blackspot Construction", from which the hon. Gentleman quoted, showed that about 90 per cent. of fatal accidents are preventable. If basic precautions had been taken and common sense prevailed, perhaps 140 of those 157 people would still be alive today.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West tried to make political capital out of all that, but he knows as well as I do that the figures for major accidents are affected by improvements in reporting requirements introduced at the suggestion of the HSC and approved by the House. However, the figures for fatal accidents are much clearer. The average number of deaths in construction is down under this Government by comparison with the last Labour Government. I do not crow about that, because I want the figure to be lower. Nevertheless, it was a bad political point for the hon. Gentleman to make. That is also true of his remarks about inspectors. In 1979, 86 inspectors were engaged on construction work. I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman intended to mislead the House, but he did so--for today there are 99 inspectors, representing a 15 per cent. increase. It is for the HSE and HSC, not Ministers, to decide on the number of inspectors required for that work.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Does the Minister condone the fact that the Government fund six times as many dole snoopers in London as they do factory inspectors? Where do the Government's priorities lie?
Mr. Cope : The hon. Member can always be relied upon to introduce a red herring into the debate, and he has done so on this occasion. The long- term drop in accidents is welcome, but it is not enough.
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : I am sure that the Minister does not intend to mislead the House, but although it is true that inspectors have been moved from other duties to construction work, it is also true that for four years under the present Government the recruitment of factory inspectors was stopped, and there are fewer inspectors today than there were 10 years ago. More inspectors may have been moved to construction, but the Minister knows that no inspectors were recruited for four years and that their number was cut. If I catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall give the House the relevant figures.
Mr. Cope : The hon. Gentleman can give the House those figures, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is true that the number of factory inspectors is lower than it was 10 years ago, but it is also true that the figure is rising. It is true also that the shadow Cabinet, in its wisdom, presumably advised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West, chose to debate construction safety, where the number of inspectors has increased by 15 per cent. and where the average number of deaths under a Conservative
Column 804Government has been fewer than under Labour. That was the Opposition's choice, not ours, and that is the basis of the debate. The reduction in the number of fatal construction accidents is welcome, but it is not enough. The most important finding of the studies mentioned is that 90 per cent. of fatal accidents examined were avoidable. The hon. Gentleman may pour cold water on this, but we believe that the first essential is to make people aware of the dangers and of how to avoid them. That is why we encouraged the excellent new literature produced by the HSC and HSE. It is well produced and covers every level. Some of it is highly technical, and some of it popular in format. All of it is valuable in increasing awareness, and so are the specific campaigns--the "blitzes"-- run by the inspectorate. Also valuable were the special visits paid by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to construction sites, to draw the attention of the media to the necessity for safety. So is the special book for small firms that I had the honour to launch a couple of months ago jointly with John Banham of the Confederation of British Industry and Norman Willis of the Trades Union Congress. We want the message to go out loud and clear that 90 per cent. of fatal construction accidents are preventable. Awareness alone is not enough. Training is also important, and that is why I welcome the emphasis placed by the construction industry training board, big companies and large sections of the industry on training. As it happens, today sees the launch of a new initiative by the Open College and the CITB. The House will be aware of the renewed support for the Open College that I announced recently. Today, it announced two new courses, "A Site more Safe" and "A Site Better Off". They are both multimedia courses that make use of audio and video tapes as well as an associated television series that will be broadcast on Channel 4 from 20 April. Open learning is particularly suitable given the irregular lifestyle of those working in the construction industry, and I am sure that those new courses will be very valuable.
For those who do not get the message, there remains the force of the law. The key power of construction inspectors--the difference between them and other safety experts--lies in their enforcement powers. During their construction blitz, inspectors issued more than 2,000 prohibition notices. Such notices are important and can prove expensive for the employers concerned.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Does the Minister acknowledge how important it is that employees receive information about site safety? But how will the Minister deal with the problem that when workers make complaints they are placed on a blacklist?
Mr. Cope : If the hon. Gentleman can produce evidence of people being blacklisted for reasons connected with safety, I shall certainly look into it. So far, I have seen no such evidence. In 1987-88, 2,874 prohibition notices were issued in construction. I remarked that they can prove expensive for the employers concerned. They are also immediate in their effect. They can be used immediately to close down whatever piece of machinery or section of the site against which the notice has been issued. That can close a whole construction site for one day or for several days, while the
Column 805matter is put right. That can prove extremely expensive for the employer, and it should not be sneezed at as a quick, direct and forceful method of imposing site safety.
There were also 610 prosecutions last year in the construction industry, which is a considerable increase. The publicity for convictions is considerable and the fine is not always the end of the matter because civil proceedings often follow. Nor should any manager or supervisor imagine that the fine will apply only to the company. A fortnight ago, in north Wales, there was a court case following a fatal accident at a steel erection site. The site agent and the senior foreman were each fined £2,000, as well as a fine being imposed on the company.
The levels of fines imposed are a matter for the courts in individual cases, but anyone who thinks that his company can afford a fine, and does not need to bother about it, should remember two factors. First, BP was recently fined £500,000 and £250,000 on the same day--it was not for a construction accident but the law was the same. That is the highest fine so far imposed, but it does not mean that higher fines will not be imposed in other cases. Secondly, there is clear evidence that safe sites are profitable sites. That is not a matter for speculation but a demonstrable phenomenon.
The specific regulations on construction under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 are considerable.
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar) : Is it not true that, in this country, no employer who has been found guilty of negligence that has caused a fatal accident on a building site has ever been imprisoned for criminal negligence? Should not such employers be sentenced? If it is their fault that a worker dies, is it not true that only imprisonment will make them take the matter seriously? When great profits are at stake, fines of £400, or even £2,000, will not improve the position.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : The Minister has mentioned a variety of sums. Does he know from his own experience and knowledge whether one can insure against such fines? Does he favour legislation to ensure that one could not insure against such fines?
Mr. Cope : I cannot give an authoritative answer about whether the fines are insurable, although I doubt it. I shall certainly look into the matter and, if possible, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will respond to that point.
There are many specific regulations on construction under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, as well as the broad and effective provisions of the Act itself. However, the HSC and the HSE are working up new regulations --a fact which, I was glad to see, had penetrated the mind of the hon. Member for Oldham, West--which will take account of modern conditions and fill some gaps where the present law is less demanding than it should be.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred to the compulsory wearing of safety helmets. We have received prospective regulations from the Health and Safety Commission and shall soon lay them before the House for
Column 806the House to decide on them. Those regulations would make it compulsory to wear safety helmets on construction sites.
Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall) : I have had correspondence with the Minister concerning Sikhs in the building industry. The legislation would affect a devout Sikh, although not one who has given up the turban wearing with the long hair on top--which, I should say to the Minister, is to be recommended as a measure of safety if hair can be grown on top. I successfully introduced a Bill on turbans, helmets and motor cycling. The House took the view that it was right to make a religious exemption for turbaned Sikhs. Therefore, I hope that the House will support such an exemption in a measure that applies to building sites because turbaned Sikhs would have to leave the building industry if the legislation were enforced universally. If necessary, I shall be happy to provide such an amendment in due course.
Mr. Cope : No doubt we shall come to that debate at some point. The Health and Safety Commission, which considered the matter and had public consultation on it, recommended that there should be no exception for turbaned Sikhs. However, we are considering that matter, as, no doubt, the House will wish to do in due course. I am conscious--as are others--of the Bill relating to motor cycles that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) successfully introduced in Parliament.
With regard to hair on top of the head, I do not think that I am doing any better than the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall, but if he has any suggestions to improve my state I shall consider them carefully.
The regulations involving safety helmets are not the only ones coming forward. Other regulations are also being developed by the commission and the executive--the right place for them to be developed--with the active co -operation of trade unions, employers and others involved in the Health and Safety Commission and the consultative process. Those in the pipeline include regulations to require more short-term but high-risk activities to be notified to the inspectorate. At the moment, the inspectorate must be notified if sites are likely to last longer than six weeks--the length of time is one measure of the importance of the site, but certain high-risk activities may last less than six weeks.
Other regulations are being considered to extend the requirement for safety supervisors to smaller companies--at present the number of employees is 20. Regulations are also proposed to provide for better management, and co- ordination on multi-contractor sites, bringing up to date 25-year-old regulations--the hon. Member for Oldham, West picked up this point from the HSC and the HSE.
Each of those proposals will be an important step forward. I understand that the Health and Safety Commission hopes to bring them forward later this year with a view to making the regulations in the course of the next year.
Some attention has recently been drawn to safety on the youth training scheme. About 66,000 young people are on the YTS in the construction industry, 37,000 of them on construction industry training board schemes. I have already explained that construction work is more dangerous than other work. That is also true of construction work done by young people on the YTS as
Column 807compared with other trainees. Our evidence-- which is not conclusive--suggests that youth trainees are less at risk than older construction workers. However, that is no reason for complacency ; the accident rate is still too high. Tragically, there was one fatality last year involving a 17-year-old electrical trainee who fell from a ladder. I am glad to say that there were no fatalities in 1987 and there have been none so far this year.
As the House knows, we have been re-examining arrangements for ensuring health and safety on the YTS. The basic arrangements are sound. Trainees, like employees, have all the legal protection of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Every trainee receives advice and instruction on health and safety matters and they have full insurance. The providers of training--the managing agents--must have effective safety arrangements in order to be awarded a YTS contract. Under the terms of that contract, managing agents must exercise a duty of care towards all their trainees and ensure that training takes place only in premises which have been notified to the Health and Safety Executive or equivalent authorities. They are also contractually obliged to ensure that work experience providers and shop floor training supervisors share in the duty of care, are fully informed of their responsibilities and carry them out
YTS providers are monitored by trained staff of the Training Agency and receive extensive guidance on health and safety. At regional level, its monitoring is overseen by professionally qualified health and safety experts, some of whom are former factory inspectors. Nevertheless, we have decided to institute practical steps to improve awareness and understanding of these important matters and to tighten controls on the providers of training and work experience. The Training Agency is issuing additional new and improved health and safety guidance, in particular a document entitled "A Good Start to Assessing Placement Safety", for wide distribution to training providers and others. It complements the existing range of documentation. My copy is hot off the press and rather exclusive, but the bulk order will be delivered in the next few days and I shall place copies in the Library.
The Training Agency is making stronger provision in the standard YTS training proposal, which becomes part of the contract if the proposal is accepted, to ensure that each YTS training provider states its monitoring policy clearly in advance. It specifically identifies and monitors agreements that prohibit use of machines or locations by YTS trainees. We are inviting the Health and Safety Executive and other independent experts to examine YTS health and safety arrangements and documentation and to advise us on further improvements.
We are commissioning from independent experts a new study of YTS accidents between April 1986 and March 1989. It follows earlier studies of accidents to young trainees commissioned from consultants at Aston university, which were published in 1985 and 1987. We hope that it will be completed about the turn of the year, and it will of course be published.
Taken together, those measures will strengthen the safety regime in YTS, including the construction industry, but I must stress that the primary legal and moral responsibility remains with managing agents and those in
Column 808charge of young trainees. We will not give YTS contracts to those who do not have proper safety arrangements. We withdraw the contracts of those who are not carrying out their responsibilities properly. YTS managing agents and training providers are just as liable as employers to prosecution, notices and civil liability when things go wrong.
For safety, Acts, regulations made under them, guidance, inspectors and courts are important, but not as important as the man or woman on the site. Construction is inherently dangerous, but the majority of accidents are avoidable, and that is the message that we must send out. They arise from carelessness, thoughtlessness, lack of planning and lack of attention to equipment. In a moment, a human life can be lost or blighted by disablement. Once that has happened, nothing can restore the position ; no fine or inspector can recompense the family. Hon. Members should not trade politics but should back the Health and Safety Commission and its allies.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : The Minister, as so often in the past, made a statement that I have heard from different people in the construction industry--that the fault for the poor safety record lies with the worker.
Mr. Heffer : I assume that most of the people on site are workers, whether they are managerial workers or people doing physical work. For years, workers in the construction industry have taken risks. Some have been tempted by bonus schemes to cut corners. To earn a little more money in relation to lump labour, some workers have taken risks, sometimes with horrible results. It would be wrong for me to say otherwise. I know the construction industry because I was a carpenter and joiner for many years before I became a Member of Parliament. I do not deny for one moment that some workers will take risks, but those risks arise from the nature and character of an industry in which profits are put before the interests of workers. It comes down to profits being made at the expense of safety. If a mistake is made by a worker, which does not happen often because he will suffer as a result, it is because he is cutting corners because the employer wants to make extra profit by finishing the job more quickly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made an excellent speech, making seven good points on behalf of the Labour party to which I am sure that workers in the industry and trade unions will respond and which give us a positive campaign for which we can fight.
The Minister said that he welcomed the debate. I find that strange. He will remember that I tabled an early-day motion which attracted about 240 signatures--probably the largest number of supporters for such a motion-- from hon. Members of all political parties, including two Conservative Members. If the Government thought that their position was so strong and that they had a story to tell, why did not the Leader of the House, whom I asked every Thursday for a debate, rush forward and say, "We have a great story to tell, so we shall have a debate at the earliest possible opportunity"? On every occasion, I was
Column 809told, "You cannot have a debate next week, but we shall look into it." We never got round to having a debate, and we are having one this evening only because my right hon. and hon. Friends in the shadow Cabinet have decided to have one on this important issue in Opposition time. I am delighted that the motion is not dissimilar to the one that I tabled.
Safety in the construction industry has always been a problem. I can testify that it is a dangerous industry because I worked in it for many years. The issue of health and safety in the industry is of great importance, to such an extent that workers in the London area, though members of trade unions, have got together with the local authority and ordinary people to launch a construction safety campaign. One of the points they make in their document is "Your health, their wealth", the very point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and myself--that it is a case of profits before the interests of the people.
What is so tragic is that a worker in the construction industry--it may be a woman nowadays--can leave home in the morning perfectly healthy and not come home because he or she has been killed or maimed. That is a horrible tragedy. It is something that Members of Parliament do not experience--if they do not get home it may be due to a heart attack or the like, but it would not be because of the work that they do here ; it would not be because the employer had failed to comply with safety regulations and had put profits before the interests of his work force. Yet that is what happens daily in the construction industry.
The Government amendment rightly says that 90 per cent. of construction accidents are preventable, and that prime responsibility lies with employers. This was pointed out in the early-day motion and in the Opposition motion today. All too often construction workers die or are maimed due to lack of responsibility on the part of the employer. It is therefore right to say that the Government are responsible, by encouraging relentless commercial pressures and at the same time failing to enforce safety standards.
The point is emphasised in the introduction of the Health and Safety Executive document, "Blackspot Construction", published in 1988, which begins by saying :
"During the five year period 1981 to 1985, 739 people were killed by the construction industry. Five hundred and sixty one were employees ; 120 were self-employed ; 47 were members of the public--including 21 children."
The next point is very important :
"Death comes to construction sites all too often. The industry is among the most dangerous of all industries in the post war period and the post war period of improvement in the annual toll of death has, in recent years, come to an end."
If the improvement has come to an end in recent years, that means in the years of the Tory Government. So when the Minister of State claims that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West is making political points he is suggesting that his own document is making political points. In fact, this is reality.
The document goes on :
"This and the rising trend in the numbers of serious injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 1981-85 has prompted increasing concern in the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and its construction industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC)." Many of the workers killed and maimed in the industry are highly skilled. It is interesting to note that 49 people of managerial and professional status were killed in that