Workplace health and safety: follow-up report - Work and Pensions Committee Contents


6  Construction industry

Fixed term inspectors

61. With 2.2 million people working in the construction industry, it is one of the largest employment sectors in the UK. HSE figures show that it is also one of the most dangerous; in the last 25 years, over 2,800 people have died from injuries they received as a result of construction work.[44] Provisional figures for 2008/09 indicate that there were 53 fatal injuries, with a rate of 2.4 deaths per 100,000 construction industry workers.[45]

62. Our last report on HSE concluded that that its Construction Inspectorate was under-resourced. During our visit to HSE's headquarters in Bootle in May 2009, we were told that HSE has recruited a number of fixed term inspectors to increase its complement of construction inspectors. In oral evidence, Geoffrey Podger provided us with a breakdown of the numbers and types of inspectors in HSE's Construction Division:

"As at 31 March of this year we actually had in post 137 full-time equivalent operational construction inspectors and they visit sites on a day-to-day basis. That figure includes 28 trainee inspectors whom we recruited in 2008 and 2009. They are managed by a further 20 people who are their managers but are also inspectors. In addition, we have 20 specialist construction inspectors, and we have 16 who work in the sector and policy areas. We also have 23 health and safety awareness officers. We are […] additionally recruiting 24 construction inspectors with a construction industry background who will be on two-year fixed contracts, and they are expected to join us in mid-June."[46]

63. The 24 fixed term inspectors will be appointed from industry and will be warranted; therefore they will be able to issue prosecution and enforcement notices but they will not undertake investigations.

64. We also met with Prospect during our visit to Bootle, who explained that their members are concerned that whilst these appointments will increase the number of frontline inspectors, because the appointees will not be involved in investigations, there is a danger that they will not be held in as high regard by industry as permanent inspectors. Prospect emphasised that these recruits may at best provide a temporary sticking plaster and will not solve the long-term problem of insufficient, permanent inspectors in the construction field.

65. We asked Geoffrey Podger whether HSE intends to make these appointments permanent and he said:

"when we come out of recession, construction, along with manufacturing industry, is a particular area which is likely to become very stressed in terms of taking on young staff who are potentially rather at risk and where, as we know, there can be rather unfortunate economic incentives to rush things along in a way which can put people's lives ultimately at risk. So we are certainly not looking to downscale our investment in construction if it is at all avoidable."[47]

66. We welcome the appointment of 24 fixed term inspectors to HSE's construction division and see this as a useful response to the disproportionate numbers of fatalities in this sector. We agree that HSE should not downscale its investment in construction and believe it is important that the regulator has the resources it needs to sustain this increase in inspectors on a permanent basis.

Construction Deaths inquiry

67. On 4 December 2008, the Secretary of State announced an inquiry into the underlying causes of construction fatalities. The inquiry was led by Rita Donaghy, former chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services, and was undertaken in three phases; firstly a comprehensive review of existing work to consolidate the understanding of fatal injuries in the construction industry with specific reference to vulnerability. Secondly, a deeper analysis of underlying causes including factors outside the health and safety system, and thirdly, a report of the findings to Ministers and HSE's Board.

68. Rita Donaghy's report examined key areas of the construction industry and made recommendations aimed at reducing the number of deaths in the sector. Many of the report's recommendations concur with conclusions we reached in our previous inquiry and others support the conclusions of this report.

69. We welcome the publication of Rita Donaghy's report on fatal accidents in the construction industry, which provides a comprehensive overview of the challenges to lowering fatalities in the sector. We are pleased that the conclusions of the inquiry support a number of recommendations from our previous reports and we await the Government's response with interest.

Refurbishment sector

70. HSE figures show that in 2007/08, 52% of the workers who died on construction sites worked in refurbishment, repair and maintenance.[48] On 2 March 2009, HSE announced that throughout the month it aimed to inspect 1500 refurbishment sites across Great Britain, to tackle poor health and safety standards. As part of its Shattered Lives and Hidden Killer campaigns, HSE's inspectors targeted principal contractors to examine their management of:

·  Working at height safely;

·  Good order on site; and

·  The risks associated with exposure to asbestos.

71. The targeted inspections found that one in five construction sites failed health and safety checks. The inspection initiative saw 1759 sites visited during March 2009, with the work of 2145 contractors being inspected. On 348 sites sufficiently serious risks were discovered to warrant enforcement action being taken - either stopping work immediately or ordering improvements to be made. Almost 500 enforcement notices were issued.[49] HSE said that improvements had been witnessed by its inspectors in certain parts of the country since last year - when inspectors had to take enforcement action on 30% of the sites visited.[50]

72. In April 2009, research for the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) by the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA) concluded that workers employed by smaller construction businesses are at higher risk of dying than those who work for large companies. Whilst 34% of workers in the construction sector work for businesses with between 1-49 employees, 51% of the deaths worked for this category of business. CCA concluded that this "raises significant issues about the need for improved regulation of small sized companies - those employing under 50 people."[51]

BUILDING REGULATIONS

73. During our visit to Bootle, we discussed the possibility of incorporating safety requirements into building regulations with Chief Construction Inspector, Phillip White, as a means of improving site safety. We explored this further with Judith Hackitt who said:

"Certainly it is a possibility, and it is one that we have heard from a number of sources as something that we need to think about, and certainly we are quite prepared to explore that as part of this work that we are now doing with local authorities […]we think there is a sound logic to the notion that says not only should this extension be built to last and not put at risk the people who are going to live in it, but that it should be built in a way that does not put at risk those who have to build it in the first place. It is a logical extension of the process."[52]

74. Rita Donaghy's report, also considered how building controls could be used to improve health and safety. She proposed that:

"there should be a Building Regulation or an amendment to an existing Regulation, imposing a duty of care on persons carrying out work to do so safely. This Regulation would be enforced by Building Control Surveyors (or Officers). This would extend their enforcement from the safety of what is built to include the safety of the building process."[53]

75. HSE's recent inspection blitz in the refurbishment sector has highlighted the persistently poor health and safety records of many companies within it. We commend HSE's targeted approach to enforcement in this area but believe more must be done to address the sector's high levels of accidents and fatalities, particularly among those working for SMEs. We fully endorse Rita Donaghy's conclusion that building controls could provide a mechanism for improving site safety and we therefore recommend that the Government incorporates safety requirements into building regulations.

BOGUS SELF-EMPLOYMENT

76. During our last inquiry into health and safety, UCATT highlighted the fact that, within the construction industry, there are high levels of "bogus self-employment" i.e. individuals who are contracted and work under the Construction Industry Scheme, when they should in fact be classified as employees.

77. The Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) sets out the rules for how payments to subcontractors for construction work must be handled by contractors in the construction industry. The scheme applies mainly to contractors and subcontractors in mainstream construction work. According to UCATT, bogus self-employment occurs when a worker who has all the characteristics of an employee is classified as self-employed for tax purposes. The vast majority of bogus self-employed workers operate under the Construction Industry Tax Scheme. Workers are taxed at source (20%) like a normal employee, pay lower national insurance contributions and are entitled to make an annual tax return. As the workers are classed as self-employed, employers do not pay any national insurance contributions and the worker pays a lower rate than a PAYE employer.

78. UCATT has argued that the "safety imperative is obviously reduced when you do not have a directly employed workforce" and has been trying to prove the increased risks faced by the bogus self-employed, by showing that there is a disproportionate number of these workers amongst construction fatalities.[54] Their concerns have grown further since learning that in their fatality investigations, HSE would record "bogus self-employed" workers (registered under the CIS regime), as employees in their statistics.

79. UCATT have suggested that the reason why HSE inspectors reclassify the employment status is that they aim to record the employment status that a worker should have had rather than the status that they may have been given. Recording a worker under the correct, directly employed status makes it easier for dependents to receive compensation.[55] However, this also means that the percentage of fatally injured workers working "self-employed" under CIS is not reflected accurately in the statistics.[56]

80. UCATT highlighted the case of a 22 year old man, who was supposed to be an apprentice at the time of his death, and yet was working under CIS and therefore would have been classified as self-employed. HSE did not record the man as worked under the CIS scheme but his self-employed status was confirmed when his family received a tax rebate from CIS on the day of his death.[57]

81. We asked Geoffrey Podger whether HSE believed lowering levels of bogus self-employment would reduce health and safety risks, he said:

"there is a very strong health and safety argument, which is that the people who are running construction sites have to have control over the totality of the people who are there irrespective of what their technical employment status is."[58]

82. Rita Donaghy's recently published report on deaths in the construction industry condemned bogus self-employment and concluded that:

"If the political will existed and enforcement mechanisms were properly resourced it is probably the single most important step which could be taken to signal to the industry, and its workers, that society expects standards to be improved and obligations fulfilled."[59]

83. We note the concerns of UCATT that bogus self-employment may make workers more vulnerable to health and safety risks. HSE efforts to correct and reclassify the employment status of fatally injured workers are useful for ensuring that family members are able to claim for compensation. However, we are concerned that the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) may provide the loop hole that allows bogus self-employment in the first place. We ask the Government to examine whether this is the case. In the meantime, Revenue and Customs should ensure that it communicates the risks of bogus-self employment to those participating in the CIS.

  


44   HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction. Back

45   HSE, Fatal injury statistic 2008/09, released June 2009. Back

46   Q59 Back

47   Q65 Back

48   "1500 Refurbishment sites targeted", HSE press release, 2 March 2009. Back

49   "One in five construction sites fail health and safety checks", HSE press release, 12 May 2009. Back

50   Ibid. Back

51   UCATT, Centre for Corporate Accountability, Small isn't Beautiful, Construction worker deaths 2007/08: Employer size and circumstance, April 2009, page 11. Back

52   Q14; Q16 Back

53   Rita Donaghy's report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, One Death is too Many: Inquiry into the Underlying Causes of Construction Fatal Accidents, July 2009, Page 26. Back

54   Work and Pensions Committee, Third Report of Session 2007-08, The role of the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive in Regulating Workplace Health and Safety, HC 246-II, Ev 42, Q92. Back

55   Ev 26 Back

56   Ibid. Back

57   Ibid. Back

58   Q80 Back

59   Rita Donaghy's report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, One Death is too Many: Inquiry into the Underlying Causes of Construction Fatal Accidents, July 2009, Page 36. Back


 
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Prepared 12 July 2009