Construction union voices health and safety concerns

Construction union voices health and safety concerns

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) has warned that Laing O’Rourke’s new safety policy could damage the UK’s health and safety culture.

UCATT has alleged that Laing O’Rourke’s ‘safety differently’ policy focused too heavily on preventing construction fatalities and neglected actions that may cause minor injuries.

Shaun Lee, regional secretary of UCATT Midlands, said: “Small injuries are not small concerns for workers.

“By neglecting basic safety, we put workers’ health and futures at risk.

“If we don’t have zero tolerance in the work place, then standards will slip and the number of injuries will increase.”

Last week, Balfour Beatty set aside £25m for potential health and safety liabilities after the introduction of new guidelines that state courts must focus on an organisation’s annual turnover when considering a fine.

UCATT warned that minor injuries can lead to months off work, causing a significant loss of pay and psychological stress for workers and their families.

However, a spokesperson for Laing O’Rourke said: “There’s a focus at many organisations on low-consequence events, like twisted ankles, in the belief that they prevented high-consequence events.

“In other words, the prevention of all harm means the prevention of serious harm. We do not believe that is true.

“There is no correlation between the number of times people twist their ankle and whether or not someone’s going to get killed by falling from height, for example.”

Laing O’Rourke explained that its new safety policy was based on the teachings of Professor Sidney Dekker of Griffith University in Brisbane, who advocated focusing proactively on managing tasks with the potential to kill or seriously injure.

The firm has also invested in a number of health-check machines that are rotated around its workplaces, and gives a full medical for ‘at-risk’ job roles every two or three years depending on the employee’s age.

Laing O’Rourke added: “Instead of being all paperwork and process, we want health and safety to be at the very core of what we do – and how we do it.

“In other words, safety is an ethical responsibility not a bureaucratic activity.”

Matt Durant, director at BAM Construction Training, agreed that health and safety policies could only go so far in preventing workplace accidents.

“The individuals creating the methodologies and safe systems of work are usually the ones furthest from the actual task at hand.

“The disastrous and significant consequences that occur on site usually happen as a result of workers taking matters into their own hands when, due to unforeseen circumstances, plans are unable to be followed.”

Matt explained that a more hands on approach was key to ensuring the safety of construction workers.

“… I think the most prudent solution is to educate the workforce on health and safety issues rather than criticise a company’s paperwork – teaching the working man what should [or] should not be done and the correct and proper use of tools and machinery.”

Paul Bogle, head of policy and research at the National Federation of Builders, suggested that those most affected by the policies may be able to help in writing them.  

“We need to explore different approaches to keeping workers safe, particularly from fatal injury or which there are too many.

“It is entirely possible that by involving workers in the development of safer working practices, a greater focus on fatalities would also reduce injuries.”

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