• Rita Donaghy Report Government Response
  • May 6, 2010 | Authors: Anne Davies; Michelle Haste
  • Law Firm: Crowell & Moring - London Office
  • Despite vastly improved standards and results that place the UK at the summit of the world of health and safety, "One death is too many" is the unanimous sentiment of those involved in the construction industry, a sector marred by a rate of fatalities four times more severe than that of any other. The Government commissioned Rita Donaghy, the former chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration service, to carry out the inquiry. The resulting report contained 28 recommendations, many of which were rejected by the government . The report covered issues such as building regulations, legal aspects, public procurement, skills and training, worker participation, and the wider effects of injuries in construction (effects on the family of those involved in an accident etc.).

    Points of interest:

    • Recommendation 2 suggested that "the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Regulations should be extended to include construction. Alternatively, a Regulation should be made which has the same effect". The application of this licensing regime to construction would ensure sufficient cooperation between the labour supplier and hirer to guarantee allocation of responsibility with regards to health and safety. However, it appears that sufficient legislation is already in place to assure this. In fact, it was the VWEF report (Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum) that was published in August 2008 that went further in attempting to protect the basic rights of all construction workers. Problems arise when we consider the diversity of the construction industry; it is clear that many firms only arrange and finalise labour after securing building contracts, not to mention the fact that there exists the problematic concept of false self-employment. The government has thus decided that it will continue to consider whether or not to implement a licensing regime; other obstacles including the extensive costs involved in licensing what would more than likely be over 200,000 different construction businesses.

    • Donaghy suggested that the courts would benefit from guidance when debating over the appropriate sanctions to be implemented upon those responsible for health and safety incidents. As a result, the Government took into account Donaghy's contention when discussing new regulations concerning offences with the SGC (Sentencing Guidelines Council). Donaghy also underscored the inconvenience of lengthy trials, resulting in the Government's concurrence and indication that work is being carried out within the Crown Court to assess reasons for the augmenting workload faced by the Crown Court itself, along with any potential means for improving its efficiency.

    • The Government rejected Donaghy's proposal for a Minister for Construction on the grounds that it had appointed Paul Morrell OBE as Chief Construction Adviser in November 2009, as a means of linking more efficiently both the Government and the construction industry.

    • In relation to public procurement, Donaghy stated, " I recommend that Office of Government Commerce guidance and the mandatory Common Minimum Standards should be applied throughout publicly funded construction projects, including local authorities, and systems for accountability should be more effectively monitored and enforced with appropriate sanctions." This was accepted by the government, and it has been noted that the HSE is carrying out investigations into how increased comprehension regarding methods of procurement can be achieved whilst strictly adhering to the CDM Regulations.

    • In its response the Government reaffirmed its appreciation for Construction Skills and the grant scheme that they provide for the construction industry.

    • Donaghy recommended that the Construction Skills Certification Scheme Card and its system "should be further consolidated and renewed with a more strategic approach as to its future development". CSCS has agreed to this and is looking into a methodology that will ensure that trained and competent individuals are able to demonstrate their competence.

    • The Government supports Donaghy's recommendation for increased worker participation in the health and safety sphere. As a result the HSE has organized a campaign to raise awareness, introduced basic training "for health and safety representatives in non-unionised workplaces in target sectors including construction", and also wishes to pilot "joint training for health and safety representatives and first line managers, to facilitate better joint decision making and co-operation." Combined with their recently launched "Do Your Bit" campaign, it would appear that the HSE wishes to encourage as much as possible the participation and involvement of workers in the health and safety sector. Interestingly, it has been remarked that one major contractor noted that 85% of their projects were injury and incident-free as a result of worker involvement and participation. Donaghy was also keen to emphasise the roles that trade unions can play in aiding better health and safety in the workplace.

    • Donaghy was quick to note that the individual workers themselves have important roles to play in promoting and preserving health and safety, insofar as they should take responsibility for their own safety as far as possible. It was also noted that membership of a trade union can help the family of the injured construction worker in receiving support. Furthermore, if one is self-employed it was asserted that sufficient insurance is vital in guaranteeing that the family of the worker can obtain necessary legal advice.

    • The response agrees with the 20 th recommendation insofar that it has been seen as necessary by the Government that efforts must be made to tackle problems raised by Occupational Health. The HSE has taken steps to help protect the lives of the construction workers, including a study that wishes to see a change in behaviour in the workplace that would generate new attitudes towards both health and safety, seeing health and the way it can be affected in the workplace as equally important as merely being safe.

    • Amongst other things, Donaghy argued that the reporting of accidents in the workplace should be taken with increasing seriousness. It was also felt that vulnerable workers should be given increased aid; for example, in September 2009 the HSE has launched an outreach project which taught various construction workers who spoke various different languages the basics of health and safety which they may otherwise have been unaware of.

    It is thus clear that the Government see Donaghy's report as an extremely valuable piece of research and an asset to the future of improvement in the world of health and safety. The statistics of fatal injuries and accidents appears to be on the decline, and, whilst this is welcoming news, deaths and serious injuries are still occurring in construction sites across the UK. Hopefully this research has helped provide the Government with an insight into which avenues need exploring and improving.