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Contractors call for changes at HSE

Contractors have called for a change in the way the Health and Safety Executive operates, as Lord Young prepares to announce the results of his review into safety legislation.

In a paper submitted to Lord Young and seen by Construction News, the UK Contractors Group said although the HSE needed to change, the regulatory regime did not.

It said underperforming areas, such as refurbishment projects run by smaller contractors, could be tackled through the HSE
“re-prioritising”.

The submission highlighted the high-profile issue of fire risk, which the UKCG said the safety watchdog had adopted a “tick box” method of dealing with.

The paper said: “Fire risk has attracted much more attention following a series of incidents including the Peckham fire.

“HSE construction inspectors have been undertaking specialist training in this area, resulting in many more statutory improvement notices served on contractors for so-called breaches that have never been picked up before.”

The body said the HSE needed to target site inspections more effectively to target bad practice.

It claimed that despite improvements in self-regulation, its members received a “disproportionate” number of inspections and had a higher level of enforcement taken against them.

“Analysis of the fatal incidents in construction shows that around 75 per cent occur on small projects within small contractors,” it said. “There is clearly an underperforming tail which needs to be addressed.”

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association echoed the UKCG’s view that changes in legislation were not needed.

CECA technical officer John Wilson said: “A major concern of the construction industry, when considering health and safety legislation, relates to the complicated interaction of regulations.

“For example, a small alteration in one set of regulations has the potential to interact with other regulations to the detriment of the framework as a whole.

“This has the potential to undermine the current aims and objectives of the legislation.”

He added: “Health and safety law has been much-criticised lately regarding the need to eliminate concerns over ‘compensation culture’. But it may well be counterproductive to change or reduce the impact of those regulations to the detriment of workers and their safety and health. We need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

The UKCG submission also called for state clients to find better ways of rewarding health and safety performance.

It said public sector clients’ experience in this area was “patchy”, with best practice being driven by the Highways Agency, Job Centre Plus, Defence Estates and Birmingham City Council.