Memorandum by the Construction Confederation
The Construction Confederation is the main representative
organisation for the UK construction industry, one of the largest
and most diverse sectors within the British economy. The Confederation
represents over 5,000 construction companies who between them
carry out over 75 per cent of the total turnover of the industry.
The Confederation comprises eight constituent organisations: British
Woodworking Federation, Civil Engineering Contractors Association,
Federation of Building Specialist Contractors, House Builders
Federation, Major Contractors Group, National Federation of Builders,
National Contractors Federation, Scottish Building Employers Federation.
The following response is made on behalf of the above-mentioned
The Health and Safety Executive has an extremely
visual presence within the construction industry. The majority
of medium sized and large contractors encounter HSE inspectors
at some point in time, either when requesting advice or information,
or through enforcement action taken by HSE. Therefore, many of
Construction Confederation members have a great deal of experience
of working with HSE.
Unfortunately the lack of construction inspectors
in the field does mean that many smaller organisations do not
come across HSE inspectors in the course of their activities.
This lack of face to face contact with HSE has lead to a disparity
in the way health and safety is enforced and it is felt that this
does not create a level playing field across industry. The result
is breaches of health and safety requirements, and, unscrupulous
employers are not informed of their responsibilities, nor is their
health and safety performance enforced in the way that it should
On a day to day basis we have found the majority
of HSE inspectors reasonable in their enforcement action and helpful
in their advice and assistance, and we do believe that they are
fulfilling the role for which they were intended. Recent guidance
documents, relevant to the construction industry and produced
by HSE, have been particularly useful. The majority of respondents
felt that these documents explain the legal requirements and clarify
the actions companies must take to ensure that they comply with
current health and safety legislation. The industry is widely
consulted on these documents and in general they are felt to be
very useful. A small minority of respondents felt that HSE guidance
documents are often too long and are more detailed than is really
The current "Working Well Together Campaign"
is an initiative that demonstrates where HSE, industry and employees
can work together in improving and raising standards in health
and safety. The recent National launches of this campaign have
been successful as a result of HSE as well as industry input.
These successes demonstrate that HSE are prepared to educate all
sectors and tiers of the industry and do see the necessity in
changing the culture of the construction industry.
Bodies such as CONIAC play a huge part in promoting
health and safety within industry. The support HSE provides and
the information discussed at IAC's is a most important function.
Much of the success of HSE we believe is due
to their independence. We are of the firm opinion that HSE should
remain independent and must not become funded by a levy or some
other imposed charge. The success of HSE is clearly demonstrated
by the continuing reduction in accidents within the United Kingdom
and the UK's overall performance in health and safety when compared
to other European countries.
However, HSE is known to be under funded for
the role which it is expected to fulfill, it is believed if HSE
were resourced properly they would be in a position to provide
more advice and assistance and in particular more HSE inspectors
in field operations.
There were a number of concerns regarding certain
aspects of HSE performance. We do feel that the policy departments
and sectors within HSE have different goals, which does not assist
industry, eg The recent Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations
1998 (PUWER) were clearly implemented to satisfy European requirements
rather than to implement good health and safety legislation and
raise standards within the UK.
When new legislation is introduced it must be
written in an appropriate and practical way and industry need
time to absorb and interpret legislation prior to its implementation.
Both PUWER and LOLER (The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment
Regulations 1998) came into force before the Regulations and Codes
of practice were actually published. Introducing legislation in
this manner causes confusion, misunderstanding and frustration.
Without adequate preparation time, industry cannot be expected
to train its workforce, ensure all equipment is compliant and
implement new safe working practices that comply with the requirements
of the Regulations.
Once new legislation or new guidance is introduced
HSE are not forthcoming on their enforcement policy. On a recent
occasion it took an exchange of three letters and a further phone
call to identify to which guidance document HSE will be enforcing
on a particular issue. In the current environment of open government
the enforcement policy of HSE should be made available to all
concerned to ensure that all of industry (and all of HSE) is working
to the same standard.
We would make similar comments regarding the
availability of the HSE enforcement handbook. On occasions we
have been concerned that individual inspectors are not following
the procedures laid down within this handbook. However, as the
enforcement handbook is not freely available to the public, organisations
cannot verify the guidelines to which inspectors should be working.
We have experienced incidents where witness statements were not
provided to the witness on their request. This action is not in
accordance with the contents of the HSE enforcement handbook.
Unfortunately the only guidelines on this matter are contained
within the handbook.
An area of particular concern that was raised
by all respondents during this consultation was the consistency
of enforcement by HSE inspectors across the UK. We do accept that
HSE Inspectors have to deal with a variety of situations many
which require immediate action however, it is felt that on the
majority of issues enforcement by HSE must be consistent across
the UK. At the present time different HSE regions demonstrate
clear differerences in their policy and this is not acceptable.
An example of this is the use of roof nets within construction.
It depends upon which region of the UK you are working as to whether
roof nets are expected to be used and how they are to be used.
This creates great difficulties. Those organisations that work
nationally find themselves working to different standards in different
areas of the Country. Those organisations within a particular
area may experience greater costs due to an inspectors whim if
he has different standards to colleagues. This does not create
a level playing field and leads to inconsistent standards across
It would appear that in certain cases very little
guidance is given to HSE inspectors and that where this is available
it is not always applied. However, we are aware that inspectors
are given guidance on specific issues and we believe that this
reinforces our previous point; if we were all aware of current
enforcement policy these regional inconsistencies would be reduced.
We have on occasions requested details of the specific training
given to HSE inspectors; this would ensure that industry is working
to the standards to which HSE is expecting their inspectors to
enforce. This information was not available or was not provided.
This lack of consistency causes further problems
under the current regime of risk assessment where individuals
are expected to identify risks and implement appropriate control
measures or procedures. Lack of practical knowledge by some inspectors
and their ability to move away from HSE enforcement policy can
result in the common sense approach which sometimes conflicts
with legislation. Risk assessment is intended to ensure that the
most appropriate solution is used in each instance, however, HSE
do always accept what is industry best practice if it does not
comply with the letter of the law, even if it provides a safer
system of work. On occasions this has led to an unsafe system
of work being used merely to comply with the HSE interpretation
of the law.
The Health and Safety Executive is felt to be
a necessity in enforcing health and safety within industry and
must remain independent.
When properly resourced the advice and guidance
that HSE provides can be excellent, however we are aware that
HSE is currently under resourced and are therefore not enforcing
and providing the advice of which it is capable.
There does appear to be conflicting interests
in implementing good legislation and ensuring that industry has
sufficient time to use the legislation to improve standards of
health and safety. There is no benefit to thrusting new health
and safety requirements upon an industry if it is not allowed
time to comply.
The biggest concern is the inconsistency of
interpretation and enforcement by HSE personnel. This could be
addressed to a certain extent by HSE enforcement policy being
freely available to industry.