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".
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 13a decrease of
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).
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.
HSE's own research found that management failure
was a factor in 70% of construction deaths.
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.
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
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.
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
UCATT report, October 2007, p 21. Back
UCATT report, October 2007, p 3. Back
UCATT report, October 2007, p 1. Back
UCATT report, October 2007, pp 23-26. Back
UCATT report, October 2007, p 3. Back
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
UCATT report, April 2007, p 8. Back
UCATT report, October 2007, p 15. Back