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HSE plans to overhaul public sector construction procurement

The Health and Safety Executive is to demand that Government bodies increase their focus on safety when awarding construction contracts.

Chief construction inspector Philip White outlined plans to change the face of public sector procurement yesterday as he updated the HSE board on the division’s plans.

In his first major speech since Rita Donaghy’s damning report into construction fatalities, Mr White warned that public procurement was still dominated by lowest-price practices.

He confirmed research was underway to establish why Government clients tended to adopt traditional approaches to construction procurement.

Saying they played a “key role” as clients of construction work, Mr White said public bodies should consider the health and safety benefits of measures such as early contractor appointment, and framework agreements.

“The construction division plans to take forward work in the 2010-11 work year looking at procurement practices generally within local authorities, and how these practices can be used for positive health and safety outcomes,” he said.

Mr White continued: “During the recession, a far greater proportion of construction work is bought by the public sector than in times of growth, and the effects of this are very apparent.

“The construction division’s work on public sector procurement will seek to influence the public sector – in both national and local government – to act as exemplars through how they procure their work.”

Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie welcomed the move, stating: “We have long argued that the procurement process should be a key driver in improving safety.”

Mr White said he also recognised the “potential leverage” on safety standards that could be secured through a closer relationship between the HSE and local authority building control, highways and planning departments.

The construction division is working to improve engagement with those regulatory services and will widen its inspection net by using council environmental health staff.

Two pilot projects are planned for the coming year that will increase the warrant powers of environmental health inspectors visiting sites of small clients, contractors and projects the HSE are not currently monitoring.

Mr White told the board: “Over this work year and into 2010-11 the intention is to broaden this work so that the majority of local authorities are covered by these initiatives.”

Following Ms Donaghy’s inquiry report, which concluded HSE’s London inspectorate division was particularly under-resourced, Mr White said an increased focus was being put on the capital, including using inspectors in neighbouring regions to provide support on significant projects such as the Olympic Park site.

A further 10 trainee inspectors will also join the construction division in October 2009, it was confirmed. This follows the appointment of 24 inspectors in mid-June.

There are currently 256 inspectors who carry out a variety of duties in the construction division, compared with 212 in September 2008.

There were 53 workers and four members of the public killed in construction-related incidents in 2008/9.


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