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Signoff: David Taylor

IT'S A BIT of a shock when one of the biggest and most respected companies in the business is hauled before the beak and fined a record £10 million for negligence.

Of course, we all knew somebody was going to get a thrashing for the Hatfield rail disaster and that it would probably be Balfour Beatty, whose responsibility it was to maintain that stretch of track. But £10 million's an awful lot.

Apart from bringing home what an utter failure privatisation of the rail industry has been, this fine can only reinforce the widely held view that construction's a dangerous industry run by incompetent people.

So it is worth noting that Balfour Beatty is one of the most highly respected contractors in the industry and that its corporate approach to health and safety is second to none.

Don't tell anybody outside the industry, though. It'll just make them gasp, and wonder 'what the hell is the rest of the industry like?'

AGAINST this background, news that Constructing Excellence is launching a drive to encourage construction firms to put socially and environmentally responsible practices at the top of the corporate agenda must be welcomed.

CE deputy boss Rodger Evans has urged contractors to 'embed' these practices in their corporate cultures and 'integrate' them within the organisat ion. In this way, companies will 'optimise the benefits for all stakeholders'.

Now if that sounds like pu re guff to you, I can quite understand ? but we've got a New Labour government, remember, and that's the way they speak these days.

Personally, I'm all for it. Bring on the corporate social responsibility, but let's be realistic about it. Mr Evans surely goes too far if (as reported) he wants construction to 'lead the way' in adopting CSR.

I think we'd be doing well if we catch up with everybody else.

WHILE on the topic of health and safety, let me share some exciting news that has just reached me via a press release from a new company called Invest In Health. It describes the development of a new product ? a selfcleaning toilet called the Eyegeine.

I don't have to go into details do I? We've all visited public toilets to discover that cleanliness (not to mention accuracy) is not the first pr ior ity of some of ou r fellow cit izens and that there's 'standing room only' (are you with me? ) Well kiss goodbye to ? sorry, I'll rephrase that ? banish unsanitary toilet seats with the Eyegeine. It is 'safe, top modern and meets the latest demands on hygiene'. The illustration suggests it combines the technology of an automated carwash with Partner's revolutionary ring saw concept.

'Ladies will like it, ' says the release.

'They tend to sit down on the toilet more often than men.' Certainly my mother-in-law will appreciate it, as she thinks you can catch everything from typhoid to unwanted pregnancies from a dirty toilet seat. That's her Christmas present sorted.

THE WORST thing about the internet is the time you waste following links from one site to the next. That's how I ended up on the World Toilet Summit site. I blame Invest In Health.

Unfortunately, we've missed the 2005 World Toilet Summit. It was last month at the Waterfront Conference Cent re in Belfast. By all accounts it was a highly successful event.

In fact, I'm told that the number of visitors was far in excess of what the organisers had planned for.

Apparently they were queuing up outside, banging on the door and shouting: 'How long are you going to be in there?'