An official report has claimed deaths of construction workers are “socially acceptable” in the UK, and calls for major changes to address the problem.
The study – entitled One Death is Too Many – has been published by the Department for Work and Pensions.
It comes after claims by unions that the government wanted to water down the report and bury its findings.
The report calls for company directors to be made legally responsible should a worker die from safety breaches.
It also proposed that the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority should be extended to the construction sector. The latest figures have shown that 53 building workers were killed in the industry last year, down from 73 in the year before, but the report’s author, Rita Donaghy, a former chair of arbitration service Acas, claims there is “no sense of shock at the regular toll of fatalities”.
“We should aim to raise the profile so a construction industry death becomes socially unacceptable,” she added.
She writes that such deaths are rarely reported, prosecutions are “ludicrously low”, and when the public are told of the level of deaths the typical response is, “I’m surprised it is as low as that”.
Ms Donaghy urges that directors are given explicit legal duties to ensure good health and safety on building sites.
“Like seat belts and drink driving, there comes a time when good practice has to become a legal requirement”, she says.
An unknown number of casual building workers are used by gangmasters, a sector which she calls “the twilight zone”.
The building union Ucatt , which has this week accused the government of trying to delay the publication in an attempt to bury the recommendations, welcomed the report’s release today. “By extending the Gangmasters Act tens of thousands of construction workers will be given greater protection overnight,” said union general secretary Alan Ritchie.
“Companies which do not meet health and safety criteria will be barred from supplying labour.
“Cowboy companies which kill workers will be barred from the industry.”
The TUC general secretary Brendan Barber welcomed the report and said he hoped the government would act quickly to fully implement the findings to prevent more needless deaths.
Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The report makes a number of recommendations which government departments will now consider, alongside the current and future safety challenges posed by the construction industry.
“Despite the welcome recent fall in construction fatalities, any death or major injury is a tragedy for individuals, their families and their colleagues, and more work is needed to bring the number of accidents down.”