CONSTRUCTION minister Nigel Griffiths has called for the industry to commit to zero tolerance of accidents on site.
Leading a battle cry to contractors, Mr Griffiths called on the industry to make construction the most highly skilled and safest industry in the UK.
Speaking at the health and safety summit in Westminster last week, Mr Griffiths told bosses and union officials that the message sent out to the public by an industry that needs to recruit 80,000 people a year cannot be that deaths and serious injuries are acceptable.
He said: 'We owe it to the families of the 803 construction workers killed in the past decade to do everything possible to spare this and future gener-ations the heartache of losing a loved one.'
Mr Griffiths added: 'We have zero tolerance for violent crime. It's time we set zero tolerance for construction.'
In 2001 the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, called the first safety summit for construction after 105 workers died in a year.
Targets were set to improve the industry's appalling safety record.These were to cut fatalities and serious and minor injuries by 40 per cent by 2005 and by 66 per cent by 2010.
But the industry missed its goals under the Revitalising Health and Safety initiative, only cutting fatalities by 25 per cent down to 70 workers and serious injuries by just 15 per cent in 2004.
Health and safety minister Jane Kennedy added that the Health and Safety Executive was not confident the 2010 figure would be met.
Costain chief executive Stuart Doughty called on construction to follow in the footsteps of the petrochemical industry.
He said: 'That industry works well with zero tolerance - clients themselves are procuring on it.You don't get on a shortlist otherwise.'
Mr Griffiths said the Government, construction's biggest client, had to take the initiative on health and safety when awarding contracts.
He said: 'Government departments must lead the way. Our message is becoming clear: if you want to get on a shortlist, or stay on a shortlist, then you had better be the best in class on health and safety.'
Ms Kennedy conceded that the Government has come under fire for not doing enough about safety as a client.
She said that the HSE, the Office of Government Commerce and the Department of Trade and Industry have commissioned research to evaluate the Government's performance on the issue.
Health still a problem, says HSE
THE HEALTH and Safety Executive's chief construction inspector, Kevin Myers, said that improving occupational health on sites continued to be a major challenge for construction.
In his third report to ministers on progress since the first safety summit four years ago, he praised the industry for reducing accident rates during 2003-4 to the lowest on record.
But he added: 'Reductions in other areas fell short of the challenging targets of 10 per cent year on year set by the industry in 2001. Limited signs of improvement in occupational health continue to provide a major challenge for the industry.
'Though decreasing injury rates are encouraging there is insufficient evidence at this stage to say with confidence that the Revitalising Health and Safety targets will be met by 2010.'
Last October the HSE, unions and employers launched the Constructing Better Health pilot scheme, which is targeting 20,000 construction workers in the Leicestershire area.
The pilot includes on-site risk assessment for employers, plus occupational health screening for workers and further specialist support if required.