HSE clamp down on construction site safety

A scaffolding company was recently prosecuted and ordered to pay £100,000 in fines and costs, following a guilty plea to Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which imposes a duty upon an employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.

The incident involved a labourer who was dismantling scaffolding from a roof and stepped on a skylight. The skylight was only guarded from one of the four sides and there was no netting in place below. The employee resultantly fell thirteen metres from the warehouse roof and died later in hospital.

Sadly, this case is not a rarity. The HSE statistics highlight that construction workers are four times more likely to be killed at work than the average worker. In particular, falls through roofs account for twenty percent of all fatalities in the construction sector. A potential reason for the particularly high number of incidents which occur in this sector is that the fines imposed are often lower than the costs of fully implementing health and safety measures.

While the latest statistics reveal that the number of work-related fatalities have fallen this year and Britain has one of the lowest rates of fatalities in the workplace throughout Europe, the HSE aim to address the poorer standards upheld in the construction sector. Particular areas of concern include falls from height, structural stability, asbestos, respirabile silica and welfare and site order. Therefore, a month long initiative was launched from 2 to 27 September 2013. The initiative aimed to increase awareness of the HSE expectations and demonstrate their capabilities to use enforcement tools. This involved unannounced inspections and enforcement at sites across the country.

According to initial figures, HSE inspectors inspected over one thousand sites, one thousand five hundred contractors and in nearly fifty percent of the construction sites visited, HSE identified material breaches and issued Notices of Contravention. Enforcement notices have also been served at some sites. The inspections have been welcomed by the General Secretary of the Construction Union (UCATT) who highlighted that ‘these findings demonstrate why the HSE needs more resources to conduct this type of inspection in all parts of the country throughout the year.’

For further information on the initiative and safe working practices on fragile roofs, please refer to the following HSE publications:
•Safer sites – targeted inspection initiative
•Fragile roofs - safe working practices

This article first appeared in Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service, and has been reproduced with their permission. For more information about Law-Now, click here.