Memorandum by the Union of Construction,
Allied Trades and Technicians (HSE 23)
The request for us to submit evidence to the
House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select
Committee coincides with the circulation of the consultation document
Revitalising Health and Safety. We are submitting the same
written reponse to both exercises. With the following additional
regulations have not been complied
with in construction, so much so that a blitz on scaffolding in
London last year found 50 per cent of sites visited served prohibition
many awareness raising exercises
have been low key and uninspiring, and have done little to change
the anti-safety culture rife in the industry;
individual deaths in construction
remain at an unacceptable level, yet little is done regarding
publicity for many of these deaths unlike the attention paid to
deaths in other sectors;
HSE may be under resourced; but they
have ignored the potential of the Safety Representatives and Safety
Committee Regulations, it has been policy not to implement them,
and thus they have missed an opportunity to plug some gaps by
involving the workforce.
The construction industry has consistently had
a worse record than other sectors. The death rate and/or totals
have come down but much more slowly
and are more like a third of the rates in the 1970s than a quarter.
The occupational health record is even worse. The Construction
Taskforce report throws doubt on the quality or existence of partnership
arrangements in construction at site level although they exist
within HSC on CONIAC and even though the industry has a national
collective agreement. In addition:
The drop in fatalities in construction
was taking place before the 1974 Act almost certain in part because
of construction specific prescriptive legislation introduced in
the 1960s. This, for example, brought in the requirement to carry
out recorded inspections by competent persons of scaffolding;
excavations; lifting equipment including cranes.
The rate of construction fatalities
for both employees and the self-employed increased in the 1980s
and dropped very slowly in the 1990s. Despite this deregulation
of safety regulations was contemplated by government, a move vigorously
opposed by UCATT members and safety campaigners at the time.
There are flaws in the 1974 Act and the Regulations
that have flowed from it:
Small Firms. Firms with fewer than
five are not required to have a written safety policy [2(3) HSWA],
or record their risk assessments. This often means safety gets
down-graded especially regarding training, information and monitoring
and assessments of healths risks. In reality a firm employing
four may regularly employ ten because six remain "self-employed".
Safety Specialists (Management Specialists).
The requirement to have safety specialists
in construction goes back to 1948 but the numbers and quality
in the industry rose after the 1974 Act, and has risen again since
the introduction of CDM. However much of the industry is not directly
covered and monitored by appropriately qualified safety specialists;
the job is tagged onto and is secondary to other management functions.
Competent Persons. The minimum qualifications
required to carry out certain monitoring exercises are not defined
in regulations, encouraging them to be carried out by people who
are inadequately qualified.
Risk Assessments. We have recorded
our concern about some of the old prescriptive legislation being
replaced by goal setting legislation backed by risk assessments.
In addition we are concerned about the lack of risk assessments
on the ground. What remedy has a worker got if the risk assessment
is inadequate? Or not being followed?
Refusing Dangerous Work/Stopping
the Job. The European Health and Safety Framework Directive gave
workers this right and specifies that they should not be penalised.
Currently if a worker is victimised in any way a worker has to
go through the Employment Tribunal system, this takes too long
and does not lead to reinstatement. The Management Regulations
should be looked at to fully implement this part of the Framework
Safety Representatives and Trade
Unions. The Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations
(SRSCR) only relate to employees and to workplaces where trade
unions are fully recognised.
Regulation 8 of SRSCR. Cases where
safety representatives need not be employees only applies to representatives
of the British Actors Equity Association and the Musicians' Union;
when we believe there is a far stronger case for this to apply
to the construction trade unions.
Self employment and the illegal economy.
Casualisation and "lump" labour arrangements have been
part of construction for many years, increasing drastically in
the 1980s, and added to by the growing use of agency workers whose
employment status is often subject to debate. The HSAW Act has
never adequately covered these groups.
Since the introduction of the 1974 Act, fatalities
in construction have remained high enough to demand attention
from HSE, including blitzes and special campaigns by HSE; for
example Site Safe (1983) and most recently Working Well
Together. Blackspot Construction (1988) found:
the basic causes of deaths in construction
had not changed over 10 years.
management were responsible for 70
per cent of the deaths.
people are killed during simple routine
work because of a clear lack of planning.
The Construction Design Management Regulations
(CDM) were introduced in order to comply with European Directives
and to improve safety by introducing a requirement to manage safety
on site by the principal contractor. We believe a key feature
of management systems in the sectors which have shown significant
improvements since the 1970s (particularly manufacturing) has
been the involvement of trade union safety representatives through
the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations (SRSCR).
Unfortunately CDM did not introduce any changes
to encourage appointment of trade union safety representatives
or extend protection to workers whose employment status is unclear:
bogus self-employed, those appointed through Agencies, or any
others open to question by employers and the courts.
Employers are not complying with the sections
of CDM which require worker involvement. UCATT has formally notified
HSE of our concern that Regulation 17 (information and training)
and 18 (advice from and views of people on site) of CDM are not
The Fairness at Work/Employment Relations Act
proposals on union recognition apply only when there are at least
21 workers, working for at least a three month period, and therefore,
by default, leave the bulk of the contractors and small employers
in construction untouched by the requirement to recognise trade
union safety representatives and allow them the facilities to
carry out all their functions.
The Employment Relations Act should
make it easier to raise individual grievances over safety and
give workers some rights to be defended by trade unions if disciplined
over safety matters.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act
which applies to apprentices, agency staff and the self-employed
working under a contract, has no service qualification and will
give all workers protection for "whistleblowing" for,
amongst other matters, when health and safety is at risk. Workers
sacked for whistleblowing are able to use procedures for reinstatement
pending a tribunal decision.
We believe these changes will be very important
in construction. However, all protections regarding health and
safety, especially the right to be a safety representative as
in the SRSC Regulations, must be extended to all categories of
workers. They must be able to use procedures for reinstatement
pending a tribunal decision, regardless of whether the employers
at site level have recognition agreements.
The industry has a national collective agreement
but it only encourages employers in the industry to recognise
trade unions (Rule 25). It is very weak on safety (Working Rule
27) and weaker than it was in the past.
63 per cent had not been consulted
over Health and Safety Training.
43 per cent of workers thought the
training and information they received on site was poor.
58 per cent had not received any
information and training on site about emergency procedures.
We continue to have problems at site and company
level over the following issues:
victimisation resulting in dismissal.
paid time off to attend trade union
approved courses, including training courses for safety representatives.
setting up of safety committees.
We would like trade union accredited safety
representatives to have access to all workplaces when called in
by the workers to represent them on safety matters, to carry out
independent inspections and to issue Provisional Improvement Notices
to aid enforcement. This is a right that has been tested in practice
in many Australian States and proved to be effective in improving
occupational health and safety in small and medium sized firms.
It has been very effective in construction. Similarly, Regional
or Roving safety representatives work effectively in Sweden.
Revitalising Health and Safety says "We
must not repeat the 20th century's experience of asbestos. We
must learn how to respond quickly to emerging concerns."
Fine words, but what do they mean?
The last two years have shown little
evidence of government willingness to act swiftly to ban asbestos.
The promised new preventive measure
regarding surveying property for asbestos and making that information
available to all who work in repair and maintenance has apparently
The promised toughening up of the
Asbestos Licensing Regulations has also deregulated work with
The promised tightening up of the
Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations did not lower the Control
limit for asbestos to 0.1fibres/ml over four hours, the control
level in a number of countries including the USA, a standard arrived
at after lengthy debate on both sides of industry.
UCATT policy, affirmed in 1998, is
Zero Exposure: there should be no incidental work with asbestos.
Targets for Asbestos in addition
to the aim of eliminating dry stripping and giving 10,000 workers
asbestos training, we would like a substantially increased target
for HSE visits to enforce the asbestos licensing laws.
In April 1999, at Leeds Crown Court, Neil and
Andrew Medley pleaded guilty to employing three schoolboys to
strip asbestos and to working without an asbestos licence, after
originally facing 64 charges in connection with asbestos at an
earlier hearing in a Magistrates court. It was the most serious
asbestos prosecution to date. We were assured by HSE, that a two
year prison sentence is possible for breaking 3(1) of the Asbestos
Licensing Laws and that HSE would argue for this forcefully. Unlimited
fines for some of the other offences were also possible.
We are horrified that in the end they appear
to have got off with 240 hours and 120 hours community service,
and were ordered to pay only £6,000 costs. The sentence is
an insult to the thousands of asbestos victims and their families.
This case illustrates that the law must be toughened up so that
punishments match the nature of the crime. Asbestos kills people.
Three years ago a Turin court jailed the nine
owner-managers of the Societa Italiana Amianto, an asbestos factory,
for terms of between seven months and eight years and ordered
them to pay personal compensation totalling £6 million. They
were found guilty of murdering 32 workers and causing the occupational
diseases of the 11 still alive. This level of punishment would
make a real difference in attitudes of employers in this country.
Over the last 10-20 years the health of men
in manual trades has got worse compared to the rest of society.
There is now a gap of over five years in the life expectancy of
men in the highest social class and men in the lowest.
There is ample evidence that many of the causes
of ill health in construction workers are well understood. Many
existing Regulations if rigorously enforced would help reduce
the burden of disease. In this category are asbestos related illness,
other respiratory illnesses, back injuries, occupational deafness,
manual handling injuries, including back problems, repetitive
strain injuries and vibration-induced white finger.
The control of health risks in the industry
will only come about when it is possible to implement a much more
pro-active strategy. The construction industry must prioritise
the funding of a preventative occupational health service to supplement
the work of the HSE/EMAS and the medical screening and surveillance
provided by some employers.
We would like to see the setting up of Regional
Construction Occupational Health Centres, involving a range of
expertise rather than simply the work of the (handful) of occupational
health physicians and nurses currently provided. We would like
to see people with practical experience in the industry involved
in site visits, risk assessments, training and dissemination of
information to workers. These centres would employ or consult
occupational hygienists, ergonomists, engineers and safety trainers.
Other countries including the USA, Italy, Denmark, Australia have
already set up such centres. Usually they are managed on a bi-partite
basis. The involvement of employers and trade unions is important.
Although HSE has recently run a campaign to
alert workers and management to the dangers of working with solvents
and though the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations
requires elimination or substitution when this is practical, the
issue of brain damage to painters and other ill health has not
been addressed in this country as it has in other European countries.
Solvent based paints are widely used in this country, whereas
Denmark imposed strict controls in 1988 and now 95 per cent of
paint used internally, 50 per cent externally, is solvent free.
In Holland recent legislation will permit up to 10 per cent volatile
solvent in internal paints, and tougher controls on external paints,
backed by a national training programme for painters. In addition
Organo Psycho Syndrome is a recognised industrial disease in other
countries but is not a prescribed industrial disease in the UK.
There are many causes of stress in construction
but one of the major factors is the long hours, given the arduous
nature of the work. The seven year UK opt out of the 48 hour week
on the basis of individual workers signing, with no requirement
for a collective decision with a workforce of less than 20, means
that the Working Time Regulations has not yet reduced the pressure
in the industry to work excessive hours. This should be a priority.
In addition the culture and general management
practice in the industry means that bullying and even violence
are not uncommon. The absence of any effective consultative machinery
at site level means that workers struggle to tackle these issues.
The Construction Taskforce said: "much of construction does
not yet recognise that its people are its greatest asset and treat
them as such." In our response to this report we argued a
significant section of construction appears to have no knowledge
of employment law in this country and/or willingly ignores it.
However, it is not unusual for us to be contacted by workers worried
about basics: dangerous equipment, lack of protective equipment,
bad welfare etc and be told they are afraid to raise these matters,
or that they have raised them and have been met with abuse and
threats. If health and safety is to improve in the industry the
confrontational approach by management must end.
Over half of all HSE prohibition notices are
given in construction. One third of all HSE prosecutions involve
construction. UCATT would like to see tougher sentences, including
prison sentences, for all serious health and safety offenses.
Average fines in Magistrates Courts are low, only £3,886
and in the Crown Court are only £17,768. Recent high fines
have been a record £1.2 million fine for Balfour Beatty for
the Heathrow Tunnel collapse which signals a change in the right
direction. However the Medley case shows we have a long way to
We believe that there should be a mechanism
for referring unduly lenient sentences for serious health and
safety matters to the Court of Appeal with regard to increasing
25 HSE Press Release 22 September 1999. Back
Rethinking Construction DETR. Back
The HSE Briefing Key Facts Injuries in the Construction Industry
1961 to 1995-96 shows an average of 250 construction employees
killed each year in the 1960s, with a peak of 292 in 1966; an
average of 162 employees in the 1970s with a peak of 231 in 1973.
In the eighties the reporting systems changed making comparisons
more difficult. However overall totals dropped slightly in the
early eighties but went up again to 165 in 1989-90. The rates
for employees and self-employed rose in the eighties. Back
In the Building (Safety, Health and Welfare) Regulations
1948 it applied to firms over 50; in 1961 this was lowered to
firms employing over 20. Back
Keltbrey, a demolition firm, was recently fined £200,000
at Southwark Crown Court following the death of Patrick Fraher
and William Cummings. The judge found they had not followed their
written safety procedures. Back
Paragraph 71 of Revitalising Safety. Back
Even in 1927 a Chief Inspector of Factories was reporting
that construction accidents followed a predictable pattern ".
. . There is a striking similarity in the reports from different
parts of the country . . . There seems to be considerable neglect
in the fencing of openings and the edges of scaffolds . . ."
See 1986-87 HSE Annual Report. Back
In a UCATT survey we found: Back
Paragraph 79 of Revitalising Safety. Back
Recent cases have been reported in the press regarding UCATT
representatives on Costains and Schall (Tarmac) sites. Back
At Wimpeys in Scotalnd a representative attempting to set
up a committee was made redundant before the case wound its way
through the Tribunal system. Other workers also made redundant
were later re-employed on a self-employed basis. Back
In 1996-97 and 1997-98, the HSE target for inspections of
notified asbestos removal operations was 6 per cent, and the plan
for 1998-99 was to inspect 10 per cent. In other words 90 per
cent of removal jobs were unlikely to be inspected. More than
half of active asbestos licensees, 54 per cent, are not visited
on site. Back
In addition, we know that Roy Hill got three months for
asbestos offences in Bristol in 1996, and that Paul Evans got
nine months for work without a licence in Birmingham, at the end
of 1998. Back
The Department of Health Healthier Nation Campaign. Back