House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
WORK AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE
UNDERLYING CAUSES OF CONSTRUCTION FATALITIES
Monday 26 January 2009
MS RITA DONAGHY
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Work and Pensions Committee
Mr Terry Rooney, in the Chair
Michael Jabez Foster
Witness: Ms Rita Donaghy, Chair, Inquiry into the Underlying Causes of Construction Fatalities, gave evidence.
Q1 Chairman: Good afternoon, everybody, welcome. As you will be aware, the Committee did a health and safety report some five years ago and a further report this year and in both of which we were very concerned about deaths in the construction industry. Indeed, in our report this year we pointed out that things had got worse, not better, since our previous report. We were pleased that the Secretary of State announced this specific inquiry into deaths in the construction industry, we were disappointed it took five months to set it up, but we are where we are. Good afternoon, Rita, welcome.
Ms Donaghy: Good afternoon, Chair.
Q2 Michael Foster: Good afternoon. The terms of reference, are they adequate, are they wide enough to establish the root causes of construction accidents? If not, what do you think they should be?
Ms Donaghy: I think they are. I think that the letter that I had from the Secretary of State, and certainly the meeting I had with him, made it quite clear that I did not have to confine myself to what we might call the narrower issues of health and safety, so I am satisfied that I can poke into all sorts of corners. The work of the academic group, it is hoped, will help with the literature collection, both internally to the health and safety industry and externally to give international comparisons and, if you like, that work will go in parallel with the work that I have already started and have been doing for just over a month. It is a bit like saying was a mortgage good or bad; I could probably tell you at the end of it if it was sufficiently broad. At the moment I am not feeling inhibited in any way whatsoever.
Q3 Michael Foster: In terms of a timetable, the best we have heard so far is what Construction News say and they reckon it is going to be available in late spring. Is that a reasonable guess? What did the Secretary of State ask of you in terms of the timetable?
Ms Donaghy: That is absolutely right. I think it is probably important that I stick to that timetable.
Q4 Michael Foster: So we should receive your final report by late spring. I know in parliamentary times spring is a moveable feast, but are you able to be any more precise than that?
Ms Donaghy: I very much hope that it will be in the hands of the Secretary of State by the last day of April. I hope. That is my intention. If it slips I will have to do some explaining, I think.
Q5 Michael Foster: Thank you for that. Tell me, do you have the right resources, budget? What is your budget for this and what sorts of other resources are available to you?
Ms Donaghy: I am delighted to say I do
not have a budget. So far everything
that I have asked for has been provided.
I have members of staff at the Health and Safety Executive and the
communications people from the DWP are assisting me, and I have a small office
Q6 Michael Foster: Generally, are you getting co-operation from the parties, both sides of the industry?
Ms Donaghy: I have been quite taken aback by the amount of time that people are prepared to give to me. They have been really generous in terms of their time and their commitment. I have still got a lot of meetings to fix up but at the moment I am really very, very pleased. Also, I am pleased with the follow-up afterwards, people sending me things and more information. I have been quite impressed by the level of dedication and commitment of the people I have met.
Q7 Michael Foster: You obviously do not have the powers of a judicial inquiry.
Ms Donaghy: No.
Q8 Michael Foster: But do you have sufficient powers, or perhaps influence, to dig out the information that you require. You say people have been co-operative, but have you yet come across any situation where you would have liked to have powers that would explore areas that you have not really felt able to do so?
Ms Donaghy: No, I have not yet. I have only really started this work. What I have not yet done is think about the implications for other government departments because, as you know, there are lots of fingers in this particular pie and I think there will be implications for a number of government departments and I have yet to see what kind of co-operation I will get, but I am optimistic.
Q9 Michael Foster: Do you have specific priorities that you want to see achieved by the end of this or are you just looking and seeing what might happen? If you do have some specific priorities, particular issues that you think are relevant to the purpose of the inquiry, what are they?
Ms Donaghy: First of all, I acknowledge that there is a huge amount of work being done in this area. This is about layers of experience from all of the different interested parties, not least this Committee and certainly the work that it has done has saved me, I suspect, quite a lot of time and effort. I intend to build on the knowledge that exists, I do not see any point in reinventing the wheel. The literature collection and the analysis of existing research will help to back that up. I think it is my job to identify the gaps between intention and reality, to try to find out if it is the lack of regulation or the non-implementation of existing regulation where there is an important gap. It is my job to ensure that the best in the industry are doing their best, that the middle range of the industry who want to do better and could do better are assisted by open access to information and support, and, if you like, the bottom layers of those who do not know and do not care have sufficient sanctions against them to ensure better safety in the future. I think there are different ways of handling these things and it will be part of my job to identify where those gaps are. There seems to be quite a bit of difference between the theory and the reality and, again, it is part of my job to identify that. Equally, although I would not dream of doing the job that you did last year, which was the inquiry on the Health and Safety Executive, I think there may be implications from some of the work that they do, so I see it as my job to look at certain areas, not least the inspectorate, to see if there are any pinch-points and also the reliability of statistics, which is another area that I know your Committee was considerably exercised about, is another area that the academics will also want to do a little bit of work on.
Q10 Michael Foster: Have you any early thoughts about what the end game will be? You have mentioned the issue between theory and reality as something you want to explore further, but has your evidence so far come to any obvious conclusions that could be implemented, like tomorrow?
Ms Donaghy: You are asking me for the recommendations in the report.
Q11 Michael Foster: We can ask and you may say, "You must wait until the end of April". Is that what you are saying?
Ms Donaghy: I do not think I can give you a clue.
Q12 Chairman: Can I just pick up two things there. You mentioned many fingers in the pie and in all these things what used to be DTI, I forget what it is called now ---
Ms Donaghy: BERR.
Q13 Chairman: It is in that department that notionally there has been a construction minister, although most of the construction ministers seem to spend very little time on construction. Are you going to be talking to the people in DBERR? Is that on your agenda?
Ms Donaghy: Chair, I do intend to do that. We have certainly invited the construction minister to arrange a meeting with me. Equally, I am quite interested in their agency inspectorate and I am going to try to fix a meeting with them. In some ways, BERR is quite key because I am aware that very often DWP and BERR cover the same subject areas, and I have no doubt the select committees do and, dare I say it, traditionally there are different philosophies that come out of those. It is very important to me to know what government thinking is in the different areas, particularly as there are such pressures possible in the construction industry and where, if today's news is to be believed, there might be pressures on construction and health and education because of lack of finances, it may be that BERR's preoccupation is more on the implications for the industry and I want to make sure that the health and safety angle is prominent in their considerations. I think that BERR is a very important department I should be talking to.
Q14 Chairman: Okay. You mentioned two or three times regulation and the clarion call from the CBI and others constantly goes out that these regulations are just burdens on business, yet the whole health and safety legislation is built on regulations. Have you heard that clarion call in connection with construction? How have you responded to it?
Ms Donaghy: I have not met the CBI yet but I know them well from my ACAS days, so I am not really surprised if that is their approach. As far as I am concerned, I want to know whether the actual regulations are inadequate or whether the implementation of those regulations is inadequate. If you look at CDM regulations, which this Committee will be very familiar with, it was said to me by one of the inspectors, "If all of this was carried out there would not be any problems". I am interested, if you like, in the implementation of regulations and whether there are any weaknesses in their actual outcomes. Burdens on business is a consideration, and I think particularly in the small and medium-sized enterprises, but very often it is a question of people not knowing what they are required to do because the information has not been accessible. That is another interest of mine, that we should ensure whatever information is available is easily readable to the lay person and not wrapped in the kind of language that, I am afraid, you very often get when you enter the health and safety world as, in my experience, when you enter the employment world. We had exactly the same experience in ACAS where we were probably giving very good information out but it was simply not understandable to people who wanted to be better but who were not professionals, lawyers or easily able to understand the actual wording of regulation. Accessibility is another interest of mine.
Q15 Harry Cohen: The DWP's press notice of this inquiry said "independent academic peer reviewers with detailed knowledge of the industry" would assist you. Can you tell us who they are and what their qualifications for the role are, who selected them and what will they be doing?
Ms Donaghy: There are three of them:
Professor Andrew Hale, David Watkins from
Q16 Harry Cohen: Who chose them?
Ms Donaghy: Well, I did.
Q17 Harry Cohen: You chose them from who was available, they were not put on you by the DWP?
Ms Donaghy: Absolutely not, no. I have got the feeling, although that is not always a good thing, that the group is going to gel quite well. They are bringing different things to the party and that is the important thing, very different experiences and attitudes, and that is what you want from an academic group.
Q18 Harry Cohen: The inquiry when it was announced talked about three phases, or have I got that wrong? Can you tell us what they are and where you are at?
Ms Donaghy: To that extent there is going to be some overlap with these. I can describe them to you but I have got them on two sides of A4. Chair, I know that you do not want to be drowned in paper but I have got enough copies for the Committee if you want it. I have summarised phases one, two and three in there if you want to see them.
Q19 Harry Cohen: That is useful.
Ms Donaghy: Rather than read out what is on the paper I can tell you how we are going about it, if that would help.
Q20 Harry Cohen: Yes, please.
Ms Donaghy: Firstly, as I say, the peer reviewers are looking at the comprehensive review as we speak. The peer review of phase two has already commenced its work. Phase two is going to be choosing a university which will carry out an external review of the industry together with international comparisons, any insurance considerations and company evidence about the root causes of construction accidents. In other words, that is going to be an external review done by a university which is separate from those peer reviewers, they have no direct interest in that particular study but they will be selecting that university. That process is starting now. We thought the sooner we asked that university to start that work, the better. To some extent our first meeting discussed both phases. Basically, we are looking at that deadline all the time. We are very, very conscious of the deadline and trying to get that work done on time. Phase three will be when I receive and review the phase one report and the phase two work and review all the work that I have done. In parallel to all of this I am meeting as many stakeholders as I possibly can of all interests within the time, but the Committee will appreciate, given your experience in the construction industry, it is not possible to meet every single organisation and group although I am doing my best to meet as many as possible.
Q21 Harry Cohen: Thank you for this document. Construction News reported that the inquiry would "trawl through ten years of HSE reports and closely examine around 50 fatality investigations". Again, in here both your peer group and the phase two external one talks about picking up a number of cases. I think phase two talks about 25 recent construction fatalities that they will be looking at. Just tell me how they will be chosen. Will they be cases chosen other than those presented by the HSE? Clearly all fatalities go to the HSE, I am not getting at that, but will the HSE be saying, "Here are the cases, do your investigation", or will you choose cases at random that may not necessarily be the ones the HSE want you to look at?
Ms Donaghy: Let me split those into two, if I may, Chair. The first ones are the 25 migrant foreign worker fatalities. This stems from a number of bits of work that have been done in this area and we are looking at the 25 cases to see if there is any pattern in these and whether there is an issue of vulnerable workers, in other words those who are not necessarily migrant workers but a wider definition maybe of vulnerable workers, ie those who are young, under-skilled or in their 60s. The intention of that one is, if you like, a slightly narrower one than the 25 more recent cases. One thing I will say is when looking at the 25 recent construction fatalities we have decided that we are going to look at them if they are not involved in legislation which means that they are not going to be yesterday's cases. When we had a discussion about this we decided that what we wanted to look for, there would not be any difference in the fact that they might be a little bit older as long as they were not tied up with legislation, legal processes, either in the hands of the police or the HSE prosecuting because we thought that might be fraught with difficulty. We are going to choose the cases.
Q22 Chairman: Sorry, can I just clarify this. Are you saying you will look at cases where the legal process has been completed?
Ms Donaghy: Yes.
Q23 Chairman: They are not excluded?
Ms Donaghy: We are not going to look at cases where the legal process is continuing, for obvious reasons.
Q24 Chairman: I can understand that.
Ms Donaghy: In a way it may mean that we are sacrificing "recent" as being really, really up-to-date, but as we met last week we were given the list of the latest ten fatalities since last November and two lines, if you like, of what they were. When you say "random", there is a difficulty about how you define random. We certainly want to select cases that are going to be useful to the inquiry. There are going to be some where if you just picked things at random you may get a case of somebody, and it is no less important, where it is one man on a ladder and the person was found deceased at the bottom of the ladder, no witnesses, no legal cases to pursue, everybody thinks it is fairly obvious what has happened and we are not going to get too much out of that for the inquiry. That is not to say it is not extremely important what happened to that individual and their family. What we want to do is maximise the usefulness of those cases for the inquiry. We are not pretending it is scientific and I think it is important that you should know that. What we do hope is to go into a lot of detail about how the information was collected in these cases, what I might call the recent cases, what questions were asked, how the information was recorded and whether, if you like, the verification and forms and all of that, the background work that the inspectorate do, are fit for purpose. We are going to have a whole day on a couple of cases even within that more to do with how the information is collected and to see if there is anything we can recommend in that area.
Q25 Harry Cohen: That is helpful. I appreciate that selecting appropriate ones to give you more information is better than a random approach.
Ms Donaghy: We are not pretending that either is scientific.
Q26 Harry Cohen: Who influences the selection? I come back to the point I was trying to get to. The concern would be if the HSE make that selection for you or influences that selection when part of the inquiry really is looking at how efficient the HSE is and, increasingly, in recent times the HSE has come under criticism. The second question to ask you is will you look at that criticism of the HSE? Will you be looking at the HSE, whether it is running efficiently, whether it has got enough inspectors in the front line? I have asked several questions there, sorry about that.
Ms Donaghy: That is okay, I think I understand. One is efficiency and one is resources.
Q27 Harry Cohen: And the selection.
Ms Donaghy: The first one is selection. The issue of who selects, I can assure you the academics have got a firm grip on looking at the information that is given by the HSE. It is given by the HSE and, where fatalities are concerned at least, the figures are reliable; the nature of the employment may not be. One of the interesting features we have found already is that the nature of employment is not necessarily something which the HSE would collect in a form that would satisfy everybody.
Q28 Harry Cohen: I am sorry to interrupt you, but can I just stop you there. You said the HSE will provide you with a number of cases and your academics will choose them. What about the possibility of the trade unions suggesting a couple of cases that they think raise particular concerns? Again, your academics could choose them or not. Why has it got to be just the HSE who provide the list you can choose from?
Ms Donaghy: I would have to think about that one. When it comes to efficiency and resources there may be areas where certainly I think it is my job to ask questions and to come up with recommendations. On the issue of the case studies, I think it is important that we do not make too much of them. What we are doing is enriching our experience and our knowledge. If I or the academic peer reviewers think for one minute that this is going to avoid areas of controversy I think we would spell it out very, very quickly. Equally, there is a layer of what you might call straightforward domestic-related fatalities and that goes to a whole different area of the construction industry, what I have been calling "the untouchables" where regulation and enforcement is the answer. With all due respect, spending too much time on them from the academic point of view is not going to get a different answer. I need to think about the comment Mr Cohen has made about receiving requests from others, but I am not sure that is appropriate. My gut instinct is that it is not appropriate. I am satisfied that information will not be hidden from us which might be useful to the inquiry.
Q29 Chairman: There is just a suspicion that HSE are providing you with cases with the histories of 50 deaths and they are the regulatory body. There is an understandable suspicion that they may have selected cases where they acted perfectly, whereas there could be other instances where part of the contributory factors towards the death was lack of inspection or supervision or regulation by the HSE. Do you see what I mean?
Ms Donaghy: I do.
Q30 Chairman: It is almost like the guilty providing their own evidence, if you like.
Ms Donaghy: I do not think that the purpose of the case studies is about how effectively they were carried out. The purpose of the case studies is to find out how the fatalities took place and whether there are gaps in the behaviour of the industry that might have saved that particular life.
Q31 Chairman: Sorry, can I just turn it around a bit. Have you asked the HSE how and why these 50 cases were chosen? I think it would be interesting to know their rationale for the 50 cases they have chosen.
Ms Donaghy: Their rationale?
Q32 Chairman: Yes.
Ms Donaghy: Their rationale is it is in the terms of reference that they have been asked to provide 25 migrant foreign worker fatalities and 25 recent construction fatalities.
Q33 Chairman: Yes, I understand that. What I am saying is why were the particular groups of 25 chosen and not a different 25 cases in each category?
Ms Donaghy: I understand.
Q34 Chairman: I think that is a question worth asking.
Ms Donaghy: Those questions have been
asked. The 25 recent construction
fatalities have not been selected. The
peer reviewers asked a number of questions about this at their first meeting
and we have not got to that stage. I am
now very conscious why you and Mr Cohen, Chair, are asking about that
particular area and I will add it to my considerations. Thank you very much for that. It is certainly my view that there are
strongly held views about the extent and number of inspections done and
therefore it would be stupid of me not to ask questions about this. I am having a session with the head of
operations. I have already had a session
with the chief executive of the HSE. I
think there is a number of areas which I want to explore, not least the problem
Cohen: I think the
Ms Donaghy: This is something I know the
Committee is extremely concerned about.
You have done work on it in the report which I have read. I will be going to
Q36 Harry Cohen: In a way, you are the first one to look at it since it was done. I appreciate it is not the focus of the inquiry. That is why I said "a passing glance".
Ms Donaghy: It might be a passing glance.
Q37 Harry Cohen: You will be aware of the criticism of the trade union UCATT. They called it an internal paper shuffling audit. They were worried that it could be that. That was their phrase. As important as that is that there will be a lot of relatives and loved ones of people who have died. Are they going to have any opportunity for input into your study? How will that work for them?
Ms Donaghy: Definitely. It will work in two ways. The first is that I intend to have two stakeholder groups to meet. It is also my intention to arrange a couple of visits to individual families. That will mean that I will go to their homes. Stakeholder groups are being diaried in at the moment. We are still waiting for some replies from some of the groups before we confirm. They know the dates but we are still waiting on some replies before we go ahead with those dates. I am extremely conscious that that is an angle that I have not covered yet.
Q38 Harry Cohen: You do not think it is an internal paper shuffling audit?
Ms Donaghy: I have already met the general secretary, Alan Ritchie, and Jim Kennedy, who is sitting behind me. They have been extremely generous about the time that they have given me on this inquiry. The proof will be in the pudding, to be honest. Why should I waste a lot of time, your time and their time, saying that I am going to do my best? I will do my best but they are quite understandably angry about what they see as a plateau of fatalities that is not disappearing. I understand that anger and frustration. Whether I share it or not will be a matter for consideration and report. They have made some very strong points to me about the nature of the employment relationship and subcontracting, many of which ring bells. As former chair of ACAS, the nature of employment relationships in any industry is quite important. Whether it inhibits a corporate culture of health and safety is an issue which I will be covering. On paper shuffling, there is a lot of paper. There are a lot of organisations. There are hundreds of acronyms. Getting to know those and the government initiatives that have taken place over the last ten years, of which there are many, is going to need a bit of shuffling of paper to get some coherence in this. I did say to the Strategic Forum last week I wanted to be convinced that there was not just a flurry of activity from leaders of the industry every time government takes an initiative and then it settles down with a sigh of relief before the next initiative takes place. I wanted to be assured that that was not going to be the case.
Q39 John Howell: The three major groups that you are dealing with are the industry, trade unions and the HSE itself. You talked about stakeholder groups as a means of engaging with them. Would you like to say a bit more about how with each of those you are looking at engaging with them and how you can make sure that the people involved there reflect a good balance across particularly the trade unions and the industry?
Ms Donaghy: There are two unions that I
have not met, UNISON and GMB. I have a
date for GMB. I do not have a date for
UNISON, but I have met the other unions already. I have met, dare I say, the two halves of
UNITE? Is that allowed? I have met UCATT of course and the
Q40 John Howell: Would you say that those were the principal influences so far coming out on this?
Ms Donaghy: No. This is not something I can give you an indication of without looking as if I am pre-empting meetings with the peer reviewers. I have personal reactions from the meetings that I have had. Incidentally, I suppose there is another group. When I referred to stakeholders earlier, I was talking about pressure groups. The other stakeholders will be the professional health and safety people, IOSH, the lawyers. The local authority has a particular bearing here, I think. There are lots of groups in the training area, CITB (construction skills). I have already met the construction skills side of it so there are huge implications for competency and significance of carding in the industry, where there seems to be very little relationship between the carding and the level of competence in certain areas of the industry, which again I think is a huge gap. That area of stakeholders I have not had very many meetings with yet but the Construction Forum was extremely useful Thursday because it enabled me to get invitations from about half a dozen people from different angles, not least the designers and the educators.
Q41 John Howell: What about the construction workers themselves? Are you going on to sites and talking to construction workers?
Ms Donaghy: Yes. I have only had one day but it is our intention to schedule another couple of days visiting sites. It was on 5 January. It was one of the coldest days of the year and I spent the day on Hackney building sites. It was a very interesting day.
Q42 John Howell: At the beginning of this, the relationship between UCATT and the HSE was not particularly good, certainly in terms of the press comments that were flying about all over the place. We heard comments about vested interests being involved and trying to downgrade the inquiry's significance. What is the relationship now as you see it?
Ms Donaghy: I do not think it is my job to worry about the headlines or the relationships between organisations unless it has a bearing on fatalities in the industry. People can say what they like about me. I have probably been around long enough not to worry too much about people's comments.
Q43 John Howell: I was not so much worried about what they were saying about you but about what they were saying about each other and whether that was going to get in the way of a cooperative inquiry.
Ms Donaghy: I do not believe that it will get in the way. There is a passion about the industry which will overcome that. It will not mean that people are going to like each other afterwards. I can only do so much. Having chaired the fire fighters' dispute and set up a constitution from what were some very poor relationships at the time, I can be optimistic that maybe my role is to try to improve that. I think people have strongly held views and they have an absolute right to give those views. I do not think it should get in the way of working towards a solution.
Q44 Harry Cohen: At the beginning you gave an answer about lack of regulation or non-implementation of regulation that you were going to have a look at. Some would say that regulation has been a failure and as part of that equation the possibility of statutory change should be there as well as part of your considerations. Is that going to be the case or is it just focusing on lack of regulation or non-implementation of regulation?
Ms Donaghy: I hesitate to give any pointers that might look like potential recommendations, but it is an area that I think we have to look at, whether existing regulations are sufficient or whether they are insufficient and whether, if they are sufficient, they are not promulgated in terms of prosecution or they are ignored in a widespread way by the industry. These are areas I have quite a legitimate point of view on. I think it is going to be quite difficult to identify. My guess is that the government's hope that I get the report in by the end of April is intended to give time in the legislative timetable if legislation is recommended, but I do say "if". I am not saying that I will necessarily but I thought that was why the timetable was rather constricted.
Q45 Harry Cohen: Are you able to tell us a little bit about your conversation with the Secretary of State? Did he put any limits on you or did he direct you in any way?
Ms Donaghy: No, he did not. I have no doubt about his sincerity either in the importance of this area.
Q46 Harry Cohen: Did you get the impression that he would be prepared to act on your recommendations?
Ms Donaghy: The proof will be in the pudding. It is my intention to have a regular, keep in touch meeting with Lord Mackenzie while I am doing the work and I have that scheduled in already. I would like to keep this Committee informed of the work as well, Chairman. If it is just to have a meeting with yourself, I would be very happy to do that.
Q47 Harry Cohen: When you have done your report, is that the end of your role or would you see there being some follow-up?
Ms Donaghy: I think it is too soon to say.
Q48 Harry Cohen: What do you see as the success in terms of the report?
Ms Donaghy: Saving one life.
Q49 Tom Levitt: What was your gut reaction before you started as to why you think fatalities are so high in the construction industry?
Ms Donaghy: I think that is a leading question.
Q50 Chairman: Yes.
Ms Donaghy: Let me answer it in terms of
my previous experience on the Low Pay Commission and as chair of
Q51 Tom Levitt: In bringing about that culture change, do you think sticks are as important as carrots? Do you reckon that sticks are more necessary than carrots or is it a mixture of the two?
Ms Donaghy: The lower down that triangle you get, the more they recognise a stick, I suppose, putting it in crude terms.
Q52 Tom Levitt: We have been here before. There was a construction summit in 2001 and in 2007 there was a plan for action. What impact did those two initiatives have and what can your inquiry achieve which they were unable to?
Ms Donaghy: They are part of the ten year comprehensive review, those initiatives, together with a number of others. It is going to be our job during phase one to look at those. I think they are important government initiatives and certainly the establishment of the Strategic Forum was an important initiative. John Spanswick's efforts to get rid of some of the overlap of effort are an important initiative. Judging whether they have succeeded or failed will be part of our look at this comprehensive review. A number of initiatives have come out. One of the areas that the HSE is least satisfied with is the extent to which the public sector - I am not quoting them; I am quoting me here - can be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem, that they have it within their bailiwick to exert levers to ensure health and safety standards are adhered to. Given the pressures on finances, particularly at the moment, it may be tempting to cut corners but the proportion of public works is going to grow, one suspects, and therefore a useful lever would be to ensure that public works have absolutely adequate health and safety standards.
Q53 Tom Levitt: It would also reflect upon the enforcement, judging by the numbers of inspects available, would it not?
Ms Donaghy: One has to make a judgment to some extent. The HSE has made that judgment. It will be up to me to decide whether I agree with that. As I said earlier, you could multiply by a hundred the number of inspectors and that would still be a drop in the ocean given the number of sites that there are and the frequency with which they all move about on short term builds. Anybody would have to make a judgment. In my view, there is no scientific answer to that.
Q54 Tom Levitt: I would just note that a few months ago I had a visit from a health and safety inspector to my constituency office, reporting on the inspections that have been carried out in my constituency. That is an initiative which I very much welcome. Could I go back to this question of regulation? You talked at the beginning about whether there was enough regulation or whether it was enforced properly. Presumably there is a third element there which is the quality of regulation and whether it is the right regulation that we have. Bearing all those things in mind, we are now in economic downturn. Is it going to be more difficult to justify changing regulations or possibly tightening regulations than it was before the downturn started, or do you have to go ahead irrespective?
Ms Donaghy: That is why I want to speak to BERR, because their business considerations will probably take precedence over other issues. We want to be singing from the same hymn sheet to make sure they are as conscious of the health and safety imperative as they are of keeping businesses open. There is an important lever. If government really has the political will to improve the health and safety record in the construction industry, it will put its regulation where its mouth is and say, "We will not hire you unless you have a certain standard." It may be in that case that imposing existing regulations and making sure they work is sufficient. I have not yet decided if that is true. If there are gaps there, it is an opportunity to use this as a lever and also any fallow periods in the construction industry for extra training and competence, another area that construction and skills feels very strongly about. Let us take advantage of these situations and train where competences are not sufficient.
Tom Levitt: I could not agree more.
Q55 Chairman: A constant refrain in recent years has been the amount of resources that the HSE have and how they apply them. Is that something you will be looking at?
Ms Donaghy: Going back to an earlier question, I have been asked to look at the construction industry. It is not my job to worry about the resources and the other bits of the HSE. That might sound rather narrow but it is my job to look at the adequacy of the construction industry work. Resources will come into it. What has been said to me by a number of people is: "Yes, obviously more inspectors would be a good idea but not at the expense of inspectorates in other parts of the HSE." There is a concern that there might be redeployment at the expense of other areas that the HSE covers. I suppose the overall issue of resources must come into it.
Q56 Chairman: There has been a reduction of something like 40 per cent in the number of inspectors the HSE has over the last five years. That is going back to my question about application of resources as well as the totality of the resources. There was a special pay deal done earlier this year for a nuclear inspectorate because they were having difficulties recruiting. That is a real issue. The totality of resources I think is beyond your inquiry. The application of them and whether there is a deprivation, particularly in the number of inspectors in construction, I assume is something that you will be looking at?
Ms Donaghy: Absolutely. I have asked for a special session with the particular head of department on this.
Q57 Chairman: I think he is sitting behind you.
Ms Donaghy: I am also quite interested in the issue of recruitment.
Q58 Chairman: In our report we made a particular recommendation regarding tower cranes and other plant which was massively resisted by the HSE and the Civil Service and the Department, although it is now going ahead. Where plant is involved, is that an area that you are also looking at?
Ms Donaghy: I am very aware of the important work that has been done by this Committee on that area. The timing is going to be important on this. I am aware that work is being done on the issue of the register. I think you had a particular concern about that, but I think recommendations register on all significant equipment, not just on tower cranes. Concentrating just for a moment on tower cranes, there is work being done by the Strategic Forum and by the HSE. I gather recommendations came to the HSE board on this. At the moment, it is my intention to wait for that to happen, to wait for the HSE board to take a decision. I may then feel that this is something I want to comment on but I do not think there is any point in overlapping the work at this stage. I am up to date on what has happened and I am aware of the difficulties on this. I am equally aware that work is being done and I want to wait for the recommendations to come out.
Q59 Tom Levitt: You are obviously a very experienced person in a number of different fields and much in demand. Are you taking on any other roles at the moment?
Ms Donaghy: I was already a non-executive
director at King's College Hospital
Foundation Trust in south
Q60 Tom Levitt: Does that mean the rest of the time is available for this inquiry?
Ms Donaghy: I am making as much time as I can available for the inquiry, yes.
Q61 Tom Levitt: What knowledge of regulation do you have should you need to be recommending new legislation?
Ms Donaghy: No direct knowledge of regulation. Obviously ACAS was involved in producing codes of practice and working with lawyers on the production of these. I am clearly aware of current legislation. That is my area. I am not a lawyer but I know where to find them when I need them.
Q62 Tom Levitt: When your appointment was first announced, UCATT expressed some reservations about your perceived lack of expertise in health and safety or construction. Clearly you have kissed and made up to some extent but what was your reaction when it was suggested that you did not have the right background for this?
Ms Donaghy: I think people are entitled to their opinion. I did not react at all. It is not true that I kissed Alan Ritchie or Jim Kennedy.
Q63 Tom Levitt: Once again, the proof is in the pudding?
Ms Donaghy: The proof is in the pudding. Exactly.
Q64 Chairman: I know you are aware of this Committee's passion about this issue. We think the present situation is intolerable. You talked about a plateau. For two years of course there was an increase. One is one too many but when you get an increase in the number year on year that is appalling. We wish you every success. You will understand the Committee has some concerns about this, but we hope that you do get there. You mentioned the two halves of UNITE. I think that might be a case of four quarters. An absolutely key element to making any progress in this industry is empowering the workforce. While you have a cowed workforce - and you talk about the 20 per cent; they do other things as well. They do not pay VAT. They often do not pay all the tax and NI that are deducted from wages - and while you have that, which is almost the worst element of what you see in gang masters, you have a cancer at the bottom of this industry that undermines everything else that goes on. We await your report with interest and thank you very much for sharing your time today. We do appreciate it.
Ms Donaghy: Thank you very much. Just because I have conducted this in a slightly lighthearted way does not mean to say I am not extremely conscious of the seriousness of the subject. I intend to approach it with as much thoroughness as I possibly can.