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Safety Representatives (Building Sites)

Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 26 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about employment of safety representatives on building sites.

Safety representatives make a valuable contribution to ensuring satisfactory standards of health and safety, both on building sites and in other workplaces.

Does the Minister accept that in Question 1, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) emphasised the appalling safety record on building sites and the need for action? In answer to that question the Minister said that he did not envisage the appointment of more inspectors. If he will not appoint more inspectors, will he make sure that there are safety representatives on all building sites and that they are there for the duration of the contract so that we can have an improvement in safety? That applies especially to management-only contracts and where there is a continuing changeover of subcontractors, because that makes the continuity of safety difficult and contributes to the high level of accidents and deaths.

I respectfully correct the hon. Gentleman in his recollection of what I said. I did not say that the Government were not prepared to appoint more inspectors, but that the mere appointment of more inspectors would not automatically ensure that there were fewer fatalities and accidents. The figures show that there are more inspectors in post in construction than the target. The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point in talking about the need to have special regard to multi-contractor sites. He will be aware that the commission has issued a consultative document about that and we shall be interested to see the response to it.

Does the Minister agree that if we are to have high safety standards in the construction industry, we must have proper training? Is he aware of the excellent work carried out by the construction industry training board in raising the standards of training in the construction industry? Does he further agree that the CITB has an important future role?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to make the point, made by Ministers on numerous occasions, that training is very much the key, and that also means training of awareness and getting over to workers the fact that in the end they have to be responsible for their safety, as do employers. That is an uncomfortable message and therefore one that Opposition Members wish to obscure, but it is true nevertheless.

Does the Minister accept that the report to which he referred earlier showed clearly that a large percentage of the appallingly high level of fatalities and serious injuries in the construction industry is due to lack of proper supervision and training in safety matters? If the hon. Gentleman cannot persuade employers, or many of them, to accept their responsibilities, will he consider giving more power to the safety representatives, so that they can stop potentially dangerous practices without going through the present bureaucratic process of filling in numerous forms while the dangerous practice continues?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of having to fill in some form or of going through a bureaucratic procedure to stop an unsafe practice. If the workers on a construction site or in any other workplace feel that something is unsafe, a single telephone call to the Health and Safety Executive will enable the matter to be dealt with at once. I do not accept that merely giving extra powers to safety representatives in a situation that may require a high degree of knowledge and expertise is the way forward. Where I can agree with the hon. Gentleman—I am grateful to him for giving me the chance to reiterate it yet again—is that management has the key responsibility, and it is wholly unacceptable, as the "Blackspot Construction" report made clear, that 90 per cent. of accidents were preventable, 70 per cent. by management action. That is a message that management must take on board and I accept it to the hilt.