Construction Sites

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 July 1990.

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Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East 12:00, 24 July 1990

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how he intends to improve health and safety on construction sites.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Employment

The prime legal responsibility to bring about improvements rests with the industry itself. As part of a continuing process to promote long lasting change in the industry, the Health and Safety Commission is to take forward proposals for new legislation to strengthen the legal requirements relating to the management of health and safety on construction sites.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

Why is it that in a high-risk industry such as construction—where, according to the Health and Safety Executive 90 per cent. of the deaths that occur could be prevented—there are only 20 overworked specialist construction inspectors for the whole country?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Employment

As the hon. Gentleman should know, I recently approved the Health and Safety Commission's plan for 1990-91. I look forward to attending its launch at a ceremony on Monday. The Health and Safety Executive is aware of the need to make proper arrangements to deal with monitoring and safety at construction sites.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that however much one legislates, and however many inspectors one employs, at the end of the day it is a question of the employees and their employers taking action to protect themselves? Does he further agree that we have seen a great improvement in the way in which the major national firms in the construction industry look after their employees?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Employment

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As is recognised by the more enlightened Opposition Members, it is absurd to suggest that the number of inspectors is the chief determinant of safety on construction sites.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Does the Minister agree that what is now required is a strengthening of the legislation to deal with instances of genuine criminal activity on the part of employers who do not provide proper safety for their workers? Perhaps if some of the directors thought that they might have to go to prison and not just pay a miserable fine, there would be an improvement in the position.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Employment

The hon. Gentleman will know that there is concern in all quarters about some of the fines that have been imposed. One of the first things that I did on assuming my present responsibilities was to write to the chairman of the Magistrates Association asking him to examine the level of penalties that are being imposed.