Construction will still be a priority for safety regulators despite fears of further budget cuts, according to the Health & Safety Executive.
The Trades Union Congress last week warned that the Government could cut the HSE’s budget by 5 per cent a year over the next three years. It said more resources need to be given to the safety body to achieve its targets to reduce occupational health problems by 2010.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The HSC has had its workforce reduced and faces further cuts of up to 5 per cent for the next three years as a result of the current spending review. These spending trends must be reversed.”
But the HSE’s chief inspector of construction, Stephen Williams, has emphasised the regulator’s commitment to the construction sector.
Mr Williams said: “Clearly we could have more resources but we will continue to work efficiently with the resources we have. Construction is a priority sector.
“We are still in discussions with the Department of Work and Pensions over our settlement for the next three years. It is late in the process to be at this stage now when the new three-year budget comes into force in April 2008.”
New Health & Safety Commission chair Judith Hackitt said the regulator could “always do more” but it was important to keep front-line inspections at the level they are now.
Ms Hackitt said: “Health and safety works when it comes from the top. We need to remind people of their responsibility, that we’re collectively responsible for enforcing health and safety. Leadership is about telling people ‘don’t do that’, training people and providing them with the right tools to do the job,” she said.
Both the HSC and HSE remain committed to reducing fatalities in the sector following a dramatic rise last year.
Ms Hackitt said: “There has been a good improvement in performance but we have to look at the rise in -fatalities last year. “We need to see whether last year was a blip or a change in trend.”
Mr Williams said: “Based on the provisional half-year figures I believe there is no sign at the moment of a repeat of last year’s occurrence.”
He said there would be a repeat targeted inspection campaign on refurbishment, repair and maintenance next spring.
Fatalities for 2006-07 reached 77, up from 60 in 2005-06.
50 employees were killed, of whom 27 were self-employed.
The rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers rose to 3.7 from record low of 3.0 the previous year.
Major injuries to employees for 2006-07 reached 3,711 compared with 3,706 the previous year.
27 per cent of major injuries resulted from fall from height.
Rate of reported major injuries fell 4 per cent to 295.4 per 100,000 employees – the
lowest incident rate since 1996-97.
There were 7,108 injuries severe enough to result in three lost working days each in 2006-07, a fall of 6 per cent since 2005-06. There has been a 32 per cent fall since the 2001 safety summit.
Around 900,000 working days are lost each year due to injuries compared with 1.8 million lost to ill-health.
Analysis: Lack of resource means lethal future
By Lisa Glancy
If the HSE has any chance of tackling health and safety issues it needs more front-line inspectors.
Last year’s dramatic rise in deaths cannot be addressed if the Government continues to cut the HSE’s budget.
The HSE uses the resource it has and could do always do with more.
The figures speak for themselves - the number of deaths and major injuries on sites are on the up.
It seems unthinkable that the Government would consider reducing the stretched resource the HSE is coping with.
Health and safety is set to become a bigger issue with targets to improve occupational health by 2010, an emphasis on tower crane safety and the problems in the housing sector flagged in a Government-led safety summit in September.
Despite the possibility that last year’s dramatic rise in fatalities might be a ‘blip’, one death on site is still one death too many.