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Safety adviser plan struggles

NEWS - Employers suspicious of union involvement in workplace scheme n Short contracts and low pay fail to attract recruits

SUSPICIOUS employers and poor pay have hampered the introduction of Workers' Safety Advisers in the construction sector.

A draft report on the first year of the scheme by consultant Greenstreet Berman for the Health and Safety Executive highlights concerns over union inf luence and low salaries.

Advisers backed by the Federation of Master Builders, construction union Ucatt and transport union TGWU visited 95 firms in the south-west in 2004-05, while Ucatt, the Construction Confederation and the National Federation of Builders gained cash for WSAs to advise another 95 firms in the Midlands.

Feedback from the Ucatt-led Midlands scheme said: 'The main barrier to employer engagement was suspicion and not understanding the scheme.

'The lead partner and the WSA also felt the Ucatt banner used on health and safety material may have been a barrier to employer recruitment.' The Midlands scheme concentrated on helping qualify workers with CSCS cards and raising awareness but also reported difficulty in recruiting advisers due to the short-term contracts.

Reaction from the south-west highlighted problems recruiting advisers.

The £24,000-a-year salary was lower than potential industry earnings.

The feedback also questioned the effectiveness of the project. The report states: 'Two WSAs interviewed were unsure whether the scheme was a success and felt that the target beneficiary organisations - members of the FMB ? were the cream of the construction sector in terms of health and safety.

They felt the scheme was missing out on tackling the more difficult cases.' But both groups saw the benefits of engaging workers through advisers as the nature of the sector meant health and safety often conflicted with current work practices.

Ucatt concluded: 'Employers don't mean to be bad but construction is all about 'getting the job done' and there is a lack of education or training in the workforce which erodes health and safety culture. We need to change this culture and the WSA approach is the way to achieve this.' Both teams have applied for cash from the Department of Work and Pensions' £3 million Challenge Fund for a third year of WSAs from April.