Construction Work

Construction union voices health and safety concerns

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2016-09-01 10:18

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) has come out against Laing O’Rourke’s new safety policy warning that they feel it could damage the UK’s health and safety culture.

Safety differently is the brain child of John Green, health and safety director for Laing O’Rourke's Europe hub. After spending five years in Australia, Green returned to the UK in summer 2015. In Australia, he successfully turned ideas in a book by Australian academic Sidney Dekker into operational policy on Laing O’Rourke sites.

The concepts have taken root at Laing O’Rourke and elsewhere, including in the aviation and mining sectors. However, the concept has made limited impact in the construction sector. Essentially, safety differently demands an end to the established culture of “zero harm” policies. It has a greater acceptance of accidents as part of working life. To an industry that’s adopted mottoes such as “all accidents are preventable” and ”zero tolerance” that concept is quite a hard sell. 

UCATT feels that Laing O’Rourke’s ‘safety differently’ policy focuses too heavily on preventing construction fatalities and neglected actions that may cause minor injuries. Shaun Lee, the 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.”

UCATT warned that preventing minor injuries is not something that should be ignored. The human cost of even minor injuries can be significant. They can lead to months off work for a construction worker, causing a significant loss of pay and psychological stress for them and their families.

In the wider context of changes within Health and Safety legislation, it would seem that a change away from zero tolerance may also be financially detrimental. Just last week, it was reported that Balfour Beatty had set aside £25m for potential health and safety liabilities. This was done in response to the introduction of new guidelines that state courts must focus on an organisation’s annual turnover when considering a fine.

With this in mind, it would seem that a change away from Zero Tolerance may just be a dangerous strategy, UCATT and others certainly think so. 

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