Construction site safety generates criticism

 

A workman who fell to his death on a construction site last month brought to five the number of fatalities on Northern Ireland construction sites this year, one more than in 1999.

It is an accident rate which has given Northern Ireland the worst record statistically in Britain and Ireland on construction site accidents - worse than the Republic and 2 1/2 times as bad as the rest of the UK.

It could have been even worse.

In addition to the fatal accidents, two roof workers suffered permanent disability in falls in the past six months. The principal construction inspector for the Health and Safety Executive in Northern Ireland, Mr Ken Logan, is highly critical of the standards that exist in some parts of the industry.

Mr Logan said in many cases site conditions had not changed in 50 years.

"Roofers and joiners are having to make do with totally inadequate safety measures in order to build the roof structure and lay tiles," he said.

"The tragic fact is most of these accidents could have been prevented if those in charge of the work had ensured that good standards of edge protection had been provided and maintained."

He said action would continue to be taken by executive inspectors wherever it discovered the regulations were not being adhered to.

An "inspection blitz" carried out in October resulted in 26 builders being forced to stop unsafe working at height.

Mr Logan said that, while management had to take a great deal of the responsibility for the safety of their employees, workers could also have a major impact on health and safety standards on site.

"They should be more willing to speak out against bad practice and insist that the proper precautions are taken.

"Too often people are willing to turn a blind eye to dangerous practice," he added.

In Britain, meanwhile, the HSE has reported a sharp increase in fatal accidents on construction sites.

Figures released by the agency show that 62 people died as a result of accidents on construction sites during the first six months of last year, compared with 39 for the same period in 1999.

The HSE's chief inspector of construction in the UK, Mr Kevin Myers, described the level of fatalities as "shocking and clearly unacceptable".

"We all know how people are dying," he said. "The solutions are straightforward and well known, and the industry must take urgent action to address the problem."

Each year UK construction inspectors make around 20,000 preventive inspections, and investigate more than 1,000 accidents and 7,000 complaints.

Last year the HSE issued more than 2,000 prohibition notices (stopping some or all work at a site), and there were 537 convictions relating to construction work.