Major contractors have been called on to share their health and safety expertise with small firms outside their supply chains following a rise in deaths last year.
The latest Health and Safety Executive records, published this week, showed site deaths rose in 2010 for the first time in four years.
HSE chief construction inspector Philip White told Construction News he wanted the “structured” part of the industry to help train the thousands of small companies that account for the majority of construction deaths.
The figures confirmed that 50 people were killed on site between April 2010 and March 2011, an increase of 22 per cent on the previous year.
Click here to see the first online map of construction fatalities since 2008/09.
As revealed by CN (14 April, page 5), this is the first time these figures have risen since 2006/07, after which the industry saw a steady decline in construction fatalities, driven by major improvements from large contractors.
Mr White said he was extremely disappointed by the increase and that it was time for large companies to do their part in improving the industry’s image as a whole.
“We know big contractors do a lot of good work right down their supply chains but, ultimately, it is important for the image of the industry that everyone improves.
“A lot of companies do help by supporting working groups but we should ask: ‘what can the industry do to help itself on a much broader front than just helping the supply chain?’
“If companies helped each other we could improve the image of the industry and that is a cultural benefit to everyone. It is about the industry helping itself and it’s not just down to the HSE.”
The move comes as HSE prepares to change the way it deals with larger firms to take a “more central approach” in order to free up time and resources to target smaller firms that, Mr White said, accounted for around 60-70 per cent of the fatalities.
CITB-ConstructionSkills head of health, safety and environment strategy Kevin Fear agreed action was needed to help firms beyond major supply chains.
He said: “Companies want to be seen as acting in a socially responsible way so, as part of their corporate social responsibility, I think they have a role to play to see how they can use their knowledge to help smaller organisations.”
National House Building Council group health and safety policy manager Simon Mantle said a number of organisations were already exploring the idea of using health and safety expertise as part of their CSR.
Mr Mantle said: “If you can engage through something like CSR it would be a win for the whole industry because, given financial constraints, the HSE is going to find it even more difficult to penetrate that part of the industry.”
But Chartered Institute of Building health and safety group chair and former Shepherd Construction chief executive Vaughan Burnand argued the initiative would never work.
“These big companies will not act as big brother and the smaller companies are usually very resentful. They won’t want the help and the majors won’t give it unless there is an incentive.”
Another issue highlighted by the HSE statistics is the number of deaths caused by temporary and structural works. In 2010, three multiple fatalities occurred under these circumstances. Mr White said the organisation was taking action to address this.
He also pointed to opportunities for safety improvement through the policies in the recently published Government Construction Strategy, particularly Building Information Modelling.
But construction union UCATT said the new figures should serve as “an urgent wake-up call for the government and their policy of cutting safety laws and legislation,” after employment minister Chris Grayling this week launched a Red Tape Challenge on health and safety regulations.
Acting general secretary George Guy said: “This rise in deaths occurred before the government’s cuts kicked in. By slashing the HSE’s budget and the organisation’s effectiveness, the government is, in reality, giving a green light to business to avoid taking safety laws seriously.”