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HSE QUESTIONED ON CONSTRUCTION SAFETY

Select committee probes construction H&S with HSE chiefs

On 10th June the HSE CEO, Geoffrey Podger and Chair, Judith Hackitt, faced questions on construction health and safety from MPs on the Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee. Issues covered included:

New Construction Inspectors – the committee heard that 24 new construction inspectors will join HSE Construction Division in mid June 2009. The new inspectors will appointed for a fixed two year term and receive the same training as that provided to permanent construction inspectors.

The new construction inspectors have a construction industry background and will primarily carry out “on-site inspection” but will be “used in enforcement if that should prove necessary”.  The inspectors will be attached to operational units and be “going out on inspection within a week or so of arriving”.

Building control involvement in H&S – Ms Hackitt confirmed that HSE are considering incorporating health and safety requirements into Building Regulations so as to have greater impact in the refurbishment sector. She said: “we have discussed that recently with a number of other people and certainly it is something that we want to look at and look at the practicalities”.

Risk in smaller v  larger businesses – workers in smaller construction businesses were confirmed as being at more at risk than those working in larger companies. However, Podger added: “I think we must equally recognise that there are still problems in the large companies, I do not think we should give them a wholly clean bill of health. Certainly people generally in the large end of the construction industry do have systems in place, do understand what they are doing.”

Refurbishment sector risks – HSE confirmed that one in every five refurbishment projects failed recent health and safety checks. Podger said: “there is a more serious problem in refurbishment which is one of the reasons for taking on temporary additional construction inspectors”

Comment: Securing a significant impact with smaller projects and contractors is a major challenge for HSE. The proportion of deaths on smaller commercial and domestic (home extension and repair) projects is increasing as the total number of fatalities fall. Increased and targeted inspection, engagement of building control (and EHOs), dedicated guidance and robust enforcement will all help raise standards in the ‘smaller’ end of the construction industry.

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