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Directors escape Donaghy duty plan

Directors of construction companies will escape onerous new safety duties and gangmasters’ rules as a result of the Donaghy review into construction deaths.

The Government finally gave its response to the Donaghy review last week, accepting 23 of the 28 recommendations but crucially fudging rules extending management duties on health and safety. The response left contractors happy, but also unions, who felt that some of their agendas had been advanced.

The response to the review has been long-awaited, with suggestions that it had been through as many as 15 drafts. Key decisions entailed resisting calls to introduce gangmasters’ licensing rules for construction and extend the scope of directors’ duties.

Gangmasters’ rules were brought in to enforce health and safety standards in industries such as cockle picking, agriculture and horticulture.

But the Government said existing rules already enforced health and safety guidelines in construction, and that extending the gangmasters’ rules to 200,000 construction businesses would involve a dramatic increase in scope - there are currently only 1,200 licences.

The UK Contractors Group had hoped the recommendation would be dropped, and was accordingly pleased with the Government response.

But unions pointed to references to bogus self-employment in the response, indicating that this was potentially the first time the Health and Safety Executive had recognised the issue.

The passages on directors’ duties were similarly inconclusive. While outlining a series of measures that could be taken, the Government said only that it would look at “further work” on the area.

The UKCG was happy with that response, while general secretary of Ucatt Alan Ritchie said: “I am pleased the Government recognises that voluntary guidance has not improved construction safety. It is essential that statutory directors’ duties are established, in order to ensure that rogue bosses who ignore safety laws, leading to the death of a worker, can be properly identified and punished.”

Another key recommendation was for the extension of building regulations, so that health and safety processes could be included when building control applications or building warrants were considered.

But the Government said there were “limits to what can be delivered through building regulations”.

“This is because, in many instances where fatal accidents occur, the type of work, for example roof repairs or electrical work, may not be covered by building regulations or may be self-certified and therefore not subject to
building control scrutiny.

“Furthermore, the limited use of full plans applications restricts the opportunity for building control professionals to apply scrutiny to construction health and safety issues prior to work starting on site.”

Donaghy also called for the commissioning of a Health and Safety Executive pilot study to determine the impact of more non-accident prosecutions. But again the Government deemed the measure unnecessary.

It said: “The Government supports the principle of evaluating the impact of HSE’s work, but does not see the need for the pilot study suggested. HSE’s construction division has undertaken enforcement-led inspection initiatives in
the past and it will now re-examine the lessons learned from those initiatives and how they can be applied to future work.”