CONTRACTORS could be forced to reimburse the NHS for patching up builders injured at work if draft regulations unveiled by the Government last week become law.
But the Construction Confederation is warning that if the cash is not ringfenced and pumped back into occupation health schemes for the industry, it will risk derailing safety improvements construction is making.
Under the plans, the NHS will expand its Injury Cost Recovery scheme to claim back cash from insurance companies in cases where personal injury compensation is paid.The plans were shelved last year by the Government after the industry was hit with massive hikes in insurance premiums in 2002.
If fully implemented, the Government expects the scheme to recoup around £250 million a year for the NHS.
A confederation spokesman said: 'We have a number of concerns, including what it will be doing with the money and the financial effect it will have on contractors.'
Under a similar plan, the NHS already recovers around £105 million every year for people injured in road traffic accidents.
Health minister Rosie Winterton said: 'It is unacceptable that taxpayers have to pay for the medical treatment of someone injured at work simply because employers fail to take adequate steps to protect their workforce.'
The confederation slammed the Government for not forcing the issue on good health and safety as one of the industry's biggest clients.
The spokesman added: 'The Government should take the lead and award contracts on the basis of health and safety.We don't see the plans as an incentive to be safer but yet another bureaucratic measure.There are a lot of companies out there working hard to improve health and safety.'
The confederation warned that if the legislation is not properly implemented it will have the opposite effect of forcing contractors to operate without insurance.
He added: 'High premiums are still out there - they are not going up but the problem has not gone away.'
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said negligent employers must pay for their actions rather than expecting taxpayers to subsidise them but warned the legislation should not be seen as another reason to raise insurance premiums.