Construction safety failing as two-thirds of clients don’t know they even exist

9 Jul 2010

Policy area: Construction & Development

A report issued today by industry groups highlighted severe flaws in legislation intended to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of those working in construction.

Tighter rules about site safety were introduced under Labour to protect the 2.2 million people who work in the UK’s biggest sector. But the changes have simply upped costs for the construction industry without improving safety standards.

The report by researchers Pye Tait was commissioned by the British Property Federation (BPF) and the Construction Clients’ Group (CCG), who represent clients of the country’s biggest construction firms. It also shows that two-thirds of companies have no knowledge of the legislation whatsoever.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 place obligations to manage health and safety upon the person or company commissioning the works. Even though they do not handle the work themselves, they are responsible. This essentially means that, for example, managers of warehouses or hotels unrelated to construction have to become experts in the rules as they themselves would be responsible for any accidents that happen on their grounds.

The report shows scant knowledge of the legislation among those clients that do not have a regular involvement in construction.  This is of great concern, because official figures show that 332 people have died between 2004-2009 from construction-related injuries. 

Jail terms or unlimited fines could await companies or individuals who fail to comply with the legislation – even though two-thirds of ‘infrequent’ clients had never heard of the regulations.

Industry groups want the government to overhaul the regulations and engage more widely with business to ensure that anyone likely to commission construction work understands their responsibilities and knows where to get help.

For companies whose main operations include construction, such as property developers, the study has found that the legislation has not led to a substantial reduction in health and safety risks in construction, while costs and the level of administration required for compliance have risen.

James Preston-Hood, CCG board director and chair of the Construction Clients Group said:

‘The report bears out our own experiences; the regulations have not led to a substantial increase in site safety, while the costs and administration associated with complying have risen.’

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation said:

‘Health and safety is something which organisations should manage as carefully as their balance sheets. It is clear from the research that this message is not permeating outside of the regular client community and at a time where the construction industry is suffering under huge cuts, it is vital we do not up the burden further.”

Jon de Souza, chief executive of the Construction Clients’ Group said:

‘The findings of the report confirm that changes are needed to the legislation to deliver their intent.  We would like to see the Health and Safety Executive commit to a root and branch review of the regulations and also refresh their communication strategy with the general business community.’