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Materials tax would pay for health plans

Ucatt close to launching strategy for nationwide occupational health scheme

CONSTRUCTION union Ucatt is calling for an extra tax on building materials to fund an occupational health scheme for workers.

General secretary George Brumwell will unveil initial plans for the scheme next month.

He said: 'If plant and machinery are regularly serviced, then why not do the same for the most valuable construction commodity - the workers.

'We know there's sympathy for this at government level. Now's the time to get industry-wide support but one of the big issues is how to fund this.

'We're looking for an industrywide national scheme to prevent ill health in the construction industry, so there's a big argument that the government could make a contribution.

'There could be a very small tax on materials. We'd be looking at all materials, including the DIY market. We're not talking about 5 per cent - we're talking about a fraction.'

The soaring level of occupational health problems like asbestosis and asthma has prompted calls for a scheme to monitor construction workers.

Contractors are also backing the plans through the National of Federation of Builders who want to see the scheme up and running by 2010.

Ideas put forward by the federation to fund occupational health checks include a CITB-style levy of firms. Chief executive Tony Maynard said: 'Reducing the number of fatal and major accidents occurring on site is of paramount importance.

'Reducing the level of workrelated illness in our industry - and the number of deaths caused by it - poses an equally significant challenge.'

Mace is also backing the occupational health drive after making plans for specialist training courses for contractors on all of its sites.

It is estimated that about 600 construction workers die each year due to asbestos-related diseases, 40 per cent suffer from musculoskeletal problems and 30 per cent experience dermatitis.

The government calculates that occupational health problems cost industry as a whole around £10 billion a year.

steve. menary@construct. emap. com