Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by UCATT


  UCATT is the largest specialist union representing construction workers in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. It represents 125,000 workers in the construction industry both in the public and private sector. UCATT is represented on a number of construction industry related bodies including the Strategic Forum for Construction, the Construction Skills Certification Scheme and CONIAC, HSC's Construction Industry Advisory Committee.


  UCATT acknowledges the high level of expertise of staff within the HSE. This submission however discusses areas where UCATT has concerns with HSE's approach or performance, in particular regarding distorted figures for the promotion of voluntary guidance for directors duties; levels of enforcement and prosecutions; and ways to conduct and record accident investigations. All evidence concentrates on the construction sector.


  For several years UCATT and numerous other organisations have argued for the introduction of legal duties for directors regarding health and safety. This chance to massively improve health and safety on construction sites was again missed when HSE/C recently chose to introduce further voluntary guidance.

  UCATT is concerned about how HSE has distorted some vital figures to buttress its argument in favour of voluntary guidance. Most importantly, "HSE has failed to publicise survey results it had itself commissioned which concluded that, despite the 2001 voluntary guidance, only 44% of organisations have a health and safety director at board level. Instead the HSE has highlighted the figure of 79%—which only applies to the very largest organisations, those with over 4,000 employees".[1] In addition, in a verification survey it was found that 14% of representatives of those very large organisations disagreed with their organisation's claim that a health and safety director was in place. This would decrease the figure down to 64%.[2]

  As regards smaller organisations, in 2004-05, only 39% of medium, 29% of small, and 17% of micro-organisations had a health and safety director.[3] Again, this paints a very different picture from the 79% presented by HSE. It shows that the majority of companies have no health and safety director at board level, not a minority of organisations as proposed by HSE.[4]

  Secondly, we are concerned about how HSE calculated the costs and benefits that would result from introducing legal duties on directors. HSE has estimated the costs at £877 million and the benefits at between £284 million and £457 million. UCATT's report shows that these figures have not been calculated correctly due to a number of problematic assumptions. When using accurate figures, it was shown that the financial benefits from legal change are about 10 times more than HSE estimated.[5]

  In addition, HSE research of 41 organisations with active health and safety director leadership shows there was an average 25% reduction in rates of work-related injury as a consequence of director action (conservative estimate), with some organisations experiencing an 80% reduction in injuries.[6]


  The number of enforcement notices in construction issued by HSE has fallen dramatically between 2002-03 and 2005-06 (last available figures). In 2002-03, HSE issued 778 improvement notices; 32 deferred prohibition notices; 2,772 immediate prohibition notices; a total of 3,582 enforcement notices. In 2005-06, the number of notices in each of these categories has decreased to figures as low as: 434 improvement notices; 14 deferred prohibition notices; 1,398 immediate prohibition notices; totalling 1,846 enforcement notices. The percentual decrease within this three year period equals a total decrease of 48.5%.

  One only needs to have a look at recent figures from the Republic of Ireland to again realise the importance and the impact pre-emptive inspections entail. In Ireland, the number of safety inspections in 2006 increased by 13%, alongside a decrease in the number of fatalities from 25 to 13—a decrease of almost 50%.



  The percentage of deaths resulting in the conviction of a company has been alarmingly low in recent years and, even worse, the percentage has decreased massively within a six-year time period. While in 1998-99 42% of construction deaths resulted in a company's conviction, the figure was only 15% in 2003-04. In total, in the six-year period between 1998-2004, as little as 30% of construction deaths lead to the conviction of a company (152 convictions following 504 deaths).[7]

  Considering that the vast majority (90% plus) prosecutions lead to a conviction of the company when charged after a fatal injury has occurred, UCATT strongly believes that a much higher level of prosecutions by HSE would act as a successful deterrent for construction firms that put the health and life of their workers at risk. This view is strengthened by an internal audit conducted in 2006 by HSE found that inspectors should be prosecuting in more than twice the number of cases they currently do, if they complied with HSE's own criteria defining when a prosecution should take place.[8]

  HSE's own research found that management failure was a factor in 70% of construction deaths.

Individual directors

  According to the HSE's prosecution database, in the last five years 13 company directors/senior managers have been convicted under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act for construction related incidents.[9]

  This figure compares for almost 350 fatally injured construction workers in the past five years, including a dreadful rise this year when 77 workers died (an increase of 31% over the previous year).


  UCATT has a number of open questions regarding some of HSE's procedures to investigate and record accidents. We have tried to get to the bottom of these questions, but so far mostly without success.

Investigation by letter

  Some of our members have expressed concerns that accident investigations have been conducted via letter, as there has been no direct contact as part of the investigation process of the accident. We believe that HSE is not carrying out proper investigation processes, but is relying on the companies' own investigations and interpretation of events. We believe that all mandatory investigations, merit a full investigation in person by a trained fully qualified inspector.

Recording of fatalities

  UCATT was repeatedly informed that HSE does not record the nationality of a fatally injured worker during their accident investigation. However, at the same time the HSE maintained that migrant workers are not at a higher risk of injury than indigenous workers, a statement that is impossible to make if the nationality is not recorded. Very recently we have become aware that HSE in fact does record the nationality of fatally injured workers, and it is worrying that HSE has failed to give some straightforward information on this.

Recording of employment status

  Similarly, despite plenty of communication HSE has not been able to provide a clear explanation as to how it records the employment status of fatally injured workers. The issue came up when in a letter to UCATT's General Secretary, Bill McKenzie (DWP) stated that "When providing advice and taking enforcement action HSE inspectors consider the false self-employed as employees." If HSE inspectors applied this approach also during the investigation of fatalities, this would create a dramatic change in the ratio of employed and self-employed workers (working under the CIS4 scheme) in the annual construction deaths and injury figures.

  In different emails HSE explained that in the course of an accident investigation, HSE does investigate what employment status a fatally injured person held. It was also confirmed "the CIS4 is only one piece of evidence that would be used to identify a building worker's self-employed status."

  We therefore now assume that when during an accident investigation HSE have found that the person should have held employee status, they might record a bogus self-employed worker (holding a CIS4 card) as employee. UCATT would like clarification on this. We have requested that if a worker killed or injured worked under the CIS4 scheme, the worker should be recorded with this status in the accident and fatality statistics. This procedure would prevent a distortion of the risk of injury employed and self-employed workers have when working in construction. Currently the official fatality figures show a ratio of 2:1 between employees and self-employed construction workers killed on site. However, if CIS4 workers (officially self-employed) were removed from the employee statistics, that ratio would massively change. Correct statistics would assist the HSE in better targeting their resources in preventing accidents and fatalities.


  UCATT is hopeful that HSE will shortly be able to explain and resolve some of the issues discussed above. UCATT also supports the view that HSE needs to have sufficient resources to fulfil its tasks. In using these resources UCATT emphasises the importance of proactive inspections and enforcement, as well as a much higher level of prosecutions that would lead to an increased percentage of convictions after a fatal injury has taken place.


November 2007

1   UCATT report, Bringing Justice to the Boardroom. The Case against Voluntary Guidance and in Favour of a Change in the Law to Impose Safety Duties on Directors, Centre for Corporate Accountability, October 2007, p 1. Back

2   UCATT report, October 2007, p 21. Back

3   UCATT report, October 2007, p 3. Back

4   UCATT report, October 2007, p 1. Back

5   UCATT report, October 2007, pp 23-26. Back

6   UCATT report, October 2007, p 3. Back

7   UCATT report, Levels of convictions and sentencing following prosecutions arising from deaths of workers and members of the public in the construction sector, Centre for Corporate Accountability, April 2007, p 3. Revised figures after HSE had changed some of its data in the HSE online databases. Back

8   UCATT report, April 2007, p 8. Back

9   UCATT report, October 2007, p 15. Back

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