Sunday, April 29, 2007

Labour's priorities: deaths up 25%, prosecutions down 75%.

The building workers union, UCATT , recently published a report
they had commissioned from the Centre for Corporate Accountability

The report was published on 28th April, which is workers memorial day, commemorating workers who are killed at work. In the construction industry alone there have been 80 deaths during the last twelve months.

Remarkably UCATT’s report finds that in a six-year period from 1998 to 2004 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecutions in construction deaths plummeted from 42 per cent to just 11 per cent. The study covered the deaths of 504 construction workers. It often takes over three years following the death of a construction worker before a company is brought to trial and convicted.

So convictions have dropped by 75%, and during the same period work related deaths have increased by 25%.

The worst year for prosecutions following the death of a worker was 2001/2 when just 9 per cent of companies were prosecuted. The conviction rates are far below the HSE’s own research which estimated that in 70 per cent of construction workers deaths management failures caused or contributed to the deaths. Although prosecutions are not always possible a recent HSE internal audit , estimated that prosecutions should occur three times more often than the current reality, creating a target of 60 per cent.

As Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, says: “The failure of the HSE to prosecute companies who kill their workers is profoundly shocking. The HSE are clearly failing to follow their own rules and guidelines on prosecutions. Serious questions must be asked about why the HSE is so spectacularly failing to prosecute more companies.”

Whether or not there is a prosecution is often entirely a question of whether or not the HSE has the will to do so, which is illustrated by the striking regional variation in the likelihood of a company being prosecuted when a construction worker is killed. It is three times more likely that a conviction will occur in the South West (31 per cent) than in the East Midlands (9 per cent). While convictions rates for England and Wales are both 22 per cent, in Scotland they are only 18 per cent.

Being able to go to work without endangering your life is a basic human right. Yet ten years into a Labour government we don’t see the situation improving, we see it getting worse. As a question of deliberate policy the HSE has fewer inspectors, carrying out fewer inspections, and prosecuting less often.

When enforcement notices are issued then companies ignore them, secure in the knowledge that the labour government will not make the enforcement of workplace safety a priority. To draw attention to this, on 1st May the GMB are calling a protest outside the head office of Marks and Spencer, because M&S's supplier, Bakkover Park Royal, has ignored no less than seven HSE enforcement notices, and several workers have been injured.

The yawning gap between the reality of New Labour, and the hopes and aspirations of its working class supporters could not be clearer.

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