The chair of an inquiry into construction-related deaths has described occupational health issues in the industry as “horrendous” and says the levels of underreporting of safety incidents “is nothing short of a scandal”.
Speaking three months after being officially appointed by the Government to chair the major inquiry, Rita Donaghy has slammed the sector for poor practice and admitted she “can’t solve all the problems of the industry with this one inquiry”.
In a speech to the board of safety advisory council Coniac, Ms Donaghy spoke about her anger over the underreporting of incidents and injuries – suggesting it may feature strongly in her final report on the industry.
She told representatives: “The massive underreporting in this country is nothing short of a scandal.”
Prior research undertaken by the University of Liverpool for the HSE has found as little as 30 per cent of reportable accidents are reported to the regulator.
Ms Donaghy said she also wanted to address health issues in her report, even though they do not fall under the remit of her inquiry.
She said: “My brief is accidents, but it has become clearer and clearer that the vast number of fatalities are caused by occupational health.
“It is horrendous… [so] I will mention occupational health in the report.”
She confirmed she would be unlikely to agree to any further meetings with industry representatives, saying she had little spare time before her report is due on the desk of work and pensions secretary James Purnell at the end of April.
But Ms Donaghy said: “I think it’s better we get things 80 per cent right [now] rather than spend two or three years doing it.”
She also took a dig at the Health and Safety Executive, with whom she is working closely on the inquiry.
Ms Donaghy said she had interrogated two inspectors to look at “where the shortfalls are”. “And there are many,” she added.
She confessed it would also prove a difficult task deciding on her final recommendations. The former of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services group admitted that while she could put forward a whole gamut of recommendations, “whether the government will have the will to do it will be another matter”.
She said the first phase of the inquiry, a look back at 10 years of HSE reports and guidance, was about 70 per cent complete and that Loughborough University had also begun an independent investigation as part of the second phase.
The number of fatal case studies being examined has also “crept up” to 30 – rather than the 25 first chosen – after Ms Donaghy and the three academic peers assisting her decided they would require more to have a broad enough assessment.
Rita Donaghy on the deaths inquiry
“I found the last three months extremely interesting, if not exhausting.”
“It is clear by conversations I have had with various people that these things have been talked about for 20, 30, or even 40 years.”
“There are good practices out there… and I think it is important we mention them.”
“Maybe I am just going to be another one with another paper gathering dust… but I hope not.”
“If it hasn’t happened for all these years, why hasn’t it happened? Why didn’t the [past studies] have any impact?”
“I don’t want to put forward 50 things that will overwhelm the [DWP]. One has to be realistic of what they will be willing to do. One knows Whitehall, if nothing else.”