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‘Disturbing’ delays in justice for construction industry fatalities

3 min read

Labour MP, Stephen Hepburn, calls for the Health and Safety Executive to be ‘an effective policeman’ to end fatal workplace accidents in the construction industry.

Construction is the most dangerous industry in the UK, so it is good news that in recent years the number of workers suffering fatal workplace accidents has declined.

In order to ensure that this positive trend continues it is essential that the Health and Safety Executive is an effective policeman. Far too many companies are willing to cut corners when it comes to safety, risking workers lives, to boost profits. Only the genuine threat of being prosecuted by the HSE will force these companies to respect safety laws.

That is why I found the answers to a series of Parliamentary questions I recently tabled and figures unearthed by construction union UCATT via a Freedom of Information so disturbing.

Between 2012/13 and 2014/15 the number of unannounced inspections in the UK construction industry declined by 8.7%. With some regions suffering staggering reductions, inspections in Scotland dropped by 55%, in the North West there was a 32.5% fall, while in my region the North East inspections were reduced by 28.5%.

These reductions occurred while the construction industry was steadily recovering from recession and work was being undertaken on more sites.

The other area of alarm is in the HSE’s failure to prosecute companies following a fatality and the even if a prosecution takes place, the sheer length of time between a death and a conviction.

In recent years the number of prosecutions following a construction fatality has continued to drop. In 2007/8 the HSE were already starting from a low base and were only securing convictions in 51% of cases. This was well below the HSE’s own target of prosecutions in 60% of construction fatal accidents and despite the fact their own internal research found in 70 % of construction deaths, management failure was a factor.

Since 2006/7 there has been a further decline in these prosecutions for example of the deaths that occurred in 2012/13 just 35% have resulted in a conviction.

There can be nothing worse for a family then to see a loved one, a father, husband, brother or son go to work one day and never return home. But the delays in justice, even if there is a prosecution, are excruciating. Justice delayed is nearly as bad as justice denied.

On average it now takes nearly 2 and a half years (879 days) before a prosecution begins following a fatal construction accident and three and half years (1,267 days) for a conviction.

Yet in extreme cases justice is delayed far longer. Last week Falcon Cranes was fined £750,000 following the deaths of two people when a crane collapsed in Battersea, south London. That accident occurred in September 2006. It took nine and a half years for the wheels of justice to move very slowly indeed.

The HSE’s response to the delay in justice has been to say it’s not their fault and the process is slowed down by the police, the coroner’s court and the justice system.

The one group whose fault it certainly isn’t are the families who have lost a loved one.

Stephen Hepburn MP is Labour MP for the Jarrow Constituency

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