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17 May 2009
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Findings from UCATT Report

This report raises a number of important points:

  1. It shows the value of the HSE providing to researchers, the names of people whose deaths were reported to it - allowing researchers to find out details about the circumstances of a comprehensive set of deaths. In this case, it has allowed important information about the size of the businesses, which workers who died were working for at the time of the death to be scrutinised.
  2. The research suggests that workers employed by smaller construction businesses are at a higher risk of dying than those who work for large companies. Whilst 34% of workers in the construction sector work for businesses with between 1-49 employees, 51% of the deaths (where we were able to obtain information on the size of the business) worked for this category of business. This therefore raises significant issues about the need for improved regulation of small sized companies – those employing under 50 people.
  3. No definitive conclusions can be made about micro companies – that is to say those employing between 1-5 people. It is known that over 90% of the 186,000 companies in construction contracting sector employ fewer than 10 workers' – but it is not known what percentage of workers work in these micro companies. Therefore whilst 24% of the total deaths come from this category, we cannot say with certainty that this was higher than expected. However, the apparently high number of deaths of workers employed by micro companies is of concern.
  4. It should be noted that this report does not look at which deaths resulted from a breach of health and safety law or indeed where that breach lay – with the direct employer or a larger company.
  5. In relation to the issue of directors’ responsibilities, the research raises questions about smaller sized companies. Until now, the arguments in favour of introducing directors’ responsibilities have been focused on medium to large sized companies – since it is they who at present are most immune from accountability. However, this research does indicate that the imposition of directors’ responsibilities could well benefit smaller companies as well.
  6. Falls from height are by far the most common cause of death in the construction sector and the HSE should continue to prioritise this issue.
  7. This report was unable to look directly at the relationship between construction deaths and the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) - which has been shown in a previous report to be responsible for false self employment. This was because the HSE did not inquire into CIS status of any of the deaths in 2007/8. The failure to do so - when this has been recognised as a potential reason for higher and safety risks - is of significant concern. There remains some concern that even now the HSE is not fully collecting information on the CIS status of deceased workers. Whilst, in determining whether or what offence has been committed, the HSE quite rightly does not give the CIS status any significance, and proceeds on the basis of the reality of the relationship between the worker and the organisation which he or she works for, the CIS status - apart from giving unnecessary financial advantages to construction companies - confuses employment relationship and responsibilities on site.

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The Centre for Corporate Accountability is a human rights charity advising those bereaved from work-related deaths, and working on issues of safety, law enforcement and corporate accountability.

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Page last updated on May 17, 2009