The construction industry once again appears to be in the dock as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publish revealing photographs from a number of sites visited during their current inspection round.
On 2nd September, HSE began a second campaign of “unannounced” site visits, first conducted in February as part of their ongoing obligation to ensure that building sites are compliant with all necessary health and safety regulations, and with the aim of “improving standards.”
The construction sector historically reports high levels of the most common type of workplace accident, most notably, slips or trips (40 per cent) and falls from a height (more than 20 per cent). Between 2011 and 2012, a total of total of 111,164 non-fatal injuries, 22,433 serious injuries and 49 fatalities were reported (HSE). It has also been estimated that more than 6 in ten of all fatalities involve falls from ladders, scaffolds, working platforms and roof edges, as well as falls caused by stepping onto fragile roofs and skylights.
However, according to HSE, major building projects have become safer over time and are no longer responsible for keeping casualty figures high but instead, it is at the smaller renovations of existing homes and workplaces where nearly three quarters of fatal accidents, serious injuries and compensation claims now occur because safety standards are often neglected.
Of the 400 sites visited in February, a quarter failed statutory checks. The current September site visits, which run till the 27th have also been increased by 5 per cent to include the inspection of more ‘small sites’ (35 per cent). However, at the halfway point, HSE say that nearly half of the 1,000 sites they visited contained material breaches leading to the issuing of Improvement Notices plus further sites were served with an Enforcement Notice.
An Improvement Notice ... is issued where an inspector is of the opinion that there has been a contravention of one or more of the relevant statutory provisions ... and in circumstances that make it likely that the contravention will continue or be repeated. The Notice requires the reason/s for the contravention notice to be improved / remedied, which should be not less than 21 days from the date of service of the notice ( mandatory period during which an appeal can be made).
Enforcement of a Prohibition Notice ... takes place when an inspector is of the opinion that an activity carried on (or likely to be carried on) involves (or will involve) a risk of serious personal injury. The reasons will be specified with direction given that the activity should not be carried on by or under the control of the person on whom the notice is served unless the causes have been remedied.
Firms fail to respond...
Many of the cases which HSE bring to court involve firms who have failed to sufficiently respond to either or both types of Notice, despite being repeatedly visited over a period of several months by HSE inspectors. Most are prosecuted for one or more breaches of The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which states that “employers have a duty to their employees to provide a safe-working environment in a ‘reasonably practicable’ manner…”
The current site revelations are of concern due to the high number of safety regulation breaches still being discovered, despite HSE “only visiting a small percentage of all the construction sites in the country.” ( UCATT)
Between 2011 and 2012, the HSE prosecuted 551 cases in England and Wales, an increase of 6 per cent on the previous year, securing 506 convictions (92 per cent), while 95 cases in England and Wales were prosecuted by Local authorities.
Click here to view the HSE photographs of sites with inadequate, statutory safety provision.