Socialist Worker

Construction deaths at work caused by sub-contracting

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2150

More than half of workers killed in construction last year were self-employed or worked for a company which employs five people or fewer, according to a new report.

The study by the Centre for Corporate Accountability commissioned by the construction union Ucatt said the levels of deaths at small companies were “disproportionately far higher” than average.

The report includes a comprehensive table of the names and ages of workers killed as well as the date, their employer, company size, the circumstances and main contractor on site.


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been obliged to make public the names of those who die at work since last July, following a ruling by the Information Commissioner.

Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie said, “This report sheds fresh light on the dangers faced daily by workers on construction sites. Small companies often do not take safety seriously. That is how tragedies occur.

“The HSE must introduce a zero tolerance approach on safety.”

In 2007-8, 72 construction workers were killed. New figures show a further 46 workers died during the first nine months of this year.

» Download the report [399kb pdf]

Construction bosses are using the economic crisis to argue for lower pay-outs for deaths at work.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) last month charged small Gloucestershire firm Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings under the Corporate Manslaughter Act – the first such prosecution to be announced since the laws were introduced last April.

Cotswold is accused of corporate manslaughter over the death of a 27-year-old junior geologist in September.

Director Peter Eaton has also been charged with gross negligence and manslaughter.

Alexander Wright was taking soil samples from a development site near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, when the pit he was working in collapsed, killing him.

The prosecution has been described as a “test case” which would set a precedent for future trials. Prior to the Act, a company could only be convicted of manslaughter if a “controlling mind” at the top of the company was personally liable.

The Sentencing Advisory Panel last year suggested that penalties under the new Act – which allows for unlimited fines – should start at about 5 percent of company turnover.

If that method was adopted by the court, Cotswold, which had a turnover of £333,425 and a pre-tax profit of £26,925 in 2007, would face a fine as low as £16,500 if convicted.

The CPS estimates that up to 13 cases every year may eventually be tried under the Act.

Under the law, companies, organisations and, for the first time, government bodies can face a criminal offence and unlimited fines if they are found to have caused a death due through gross corporate health and safety failures.

Eaton will appear before Stroud Magistrates’ Court, on behalf of both himself and the company, on 17 June.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has producing a register of cranes following a series of high-profile collapses.

Laurence Golob, from the HSE’s business involvement unit, estimated there were about 1,000 cranes which need to be assembled on site – called assisted erectors – and 500 to 700 self-erectors, which are a single unit that “unfolds” to form a crane.

The statutory crane register will only apply to “assisted-erected” tower cranes.

The HSE has decided opening the register up to both types from day one would be too complex.

A protest over safety and subcontracting was due to take place at the Olympics site on Wednesday of this week. Watch this site for report.

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Tue 5 May 2009, 18:31 BST
Issue No. 2150
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