Tag Archives: jerry swain

Sharp rise in construction deaths coincides with plunge in inspections

Unite, the UK’s construction union, is warning that the large increase in construction deaths could be related to a steep fall in proactive inspections and prosecutions being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive.

It was revealed this week that construction fatalities increased by 33 per cent in a year from 30 in 2018/19 to 40 in 2019/20, a third of all work related deaths.

Decrease in inspections

A freedom of information request by Unite has uncovered that the increase in deaths corresponds with at least a 25 per cent decline in proactive (unannounced) construction inspections.

In 2018/19 there were a total of 9286 proactive inspections compared to just 6381 in 2019/20, a decline of 31 per cent.

Inspections suspended

In March 2020, the HSE ceased making proactive inspections due to Covid-19.  Notwithstanding this development, the fall in construction inspection still amounts to a massive 25 percent reduction in the number of inspections when compared to the corresponding 11 month period in the previous year.

Construction workers in danger

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “These figures are alarming and raise serious questions about the safety of construction workers.

 “Each of the fatalities was a terrible tragedy, a loved one went to work one day and never came home again.

 “It is simply no coincidence that the drop in inspections has occurred at the same time that there has been a steep rise in deaths.

 “We need to be honest, the constant cuts to the HSE since 2010 have had an awful impact on workers’ lives.  The simple way to protect construction workers and to help stop the loss of life in our workplaces is to restore funding to the inspection and safety agency.

 “It has always been the case that there are employers in construction that are prepared to cut corners on safety to boost profits – only the threat of action by the HSE keeps them in check.

 “With the added problems of the Covid-19 pandemic, regular inspections by the HSE have never been more important.

 “For employers who are trying to ensure that they follow the complex rules on social distancing, there is a real danger they could take their eye off the ball when it comes to other safety measures.

 “With the unscrupulous employers, the rogues will consider the current crisis a good excuse to play fast and loose with all safety requirements in the unfortunately correct assumption that they are unlikely to be caught.

 “Over the past decade, the HSE has been cut to the bone. The recent meagre increase in funding it has received is a drop in the ocean compared to the funding it has lost.

 “If the HSE is going to keep workers safe and healthy, able to deal with the twin challenges of Covid-19 and workplace safety, then it must be given the resources by the government to do so.”

London and South West biggest reduction

The sharpest decrease in inspections was in the South West where inspections declined by 54 per cent but the most alarming decrease was in London which accounts for 30 per cent of the UK’s construction work and where inspections halved. There were also sharp declines in the West Midlands (-49 per cent), South East (-48 per cent) and Eastern England (-33 per cent).

Unite’s FOI also revealed that the total number of enforcement notices issued by the HSE concerning breaches of safety laws has declined by 30 per cent in 2019, while the number of prosecutions heard in courts for serious safety failures was down by 24 per cent.

Construction workers urged not to risk health due to dusk mask shortage

Unite, the UK’s construction union, is urging workers not to risk their health if they are not supplied with the correct PPE.

The union’s warning follows the revelation that many contractors are struggling to purchase the appropriate dusk masks. The shortage is understood to be a result of the vastly increased demand for face masks due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “Workers must not place their health at risk.

 “If PPE is required and the correct masks are not available then work has to be delayed until they can be sourced. Workers must not feel pressurised into taking shortcuts with their safety.

 “If a worker is at all uncertain about whether they require PPE they must request to see an appropriate risk assessment. If they still believe it is unsafe, an employee legally has a right to remove themselves from a dangerous situation.

 “Unite will fully support a member who declines to work due to safety concerns.

 “Clearly most responsible employers will follow the rules and reschedule work but there remains too many rogue employers who are willing to risk the health of their workers.

 “It is all too easy to forget because of the pandemic that there are many reasons why an appropriate mask may be required while undertaking construction work other than preventing the spread of Covid-19.

 “Even when you are socially distancing you may still need to wear a mask because of the dangerous nature of the work being undertaken.”

Crossrail Costain/Skanska decision: Workers must not suffer and lessons must be learned

Unite, the UK’s construction union, is demanding that workers must not lose out financially after it was announced that Crossrail and the Costain/Skanska joint venture have terminated the contract to build the new Bond Street station with immediate effect.

Workers in Limbo

Workers and contractors were informed that work would cease yesterday (Wednesday 24 June) throwing them into limbo.

Innocent victims

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “Workers and contractors are the innocent victims of the long-term problems and delays caused by the archaic manner in which Costain/Skanska has operated on this project.

“In order to avoid workers losing out financially Crossrail must commit to ensuring that workers will be swiftly re-engaged as soon as a new contractor is appointed to finally complete this long-delayed project. Workers should receive financial support in the meantime.

“The Covid-19 pandemic means that construction work is far harder to come by at the moment and it would be totally unfair if these workers did not receive financial support due to this shock decision which has nothing to do with their work.”

Poor industrial relations

The way in which the Costain/Skanska venture has operated industrial relations on both Crossrail and on HS2 has been highly controversial.

The joint venture has refused Unite officials access to the site at Bond Street, even when workers were fearful for their lives due to concerns about air quality.

Similar problems have been occurring for over a year on Costain/Skanska’s joint venture site on HS2 at Euston station in London, resulting in Unite organising a series of protests.

Wake-up call

Mr Swain added: “The decision to part company with Costain/Skanska at Bond Street must serve as a wake-up call to the company and they must change their management style and the way they treat their workforce.

“In order to avoid repeating the problems at Bond Street, the joint venture needs to embrace all the stakeholders involved on HS2, including trade unions.

“In a world where the Covid-19 pandemic has caused huge changes in the way construction workers operate, it is more important than ever that workers have normal access to union officials in a socially distanced manner.

“Unite will be making representations to Costain/Skanska to assist them in ensuring that the problems which have ultimately resulted in them losing the Bond Street contract do not repeat themselves on their planned operations on HS2.”