Last year 51% of the construction workers killed, worked for companies with fewer than 50 employees

Construction workers employed at small companies are at a much greater risk of death and injury, found a new report.

Last year over half (51%) of the construction workers killed, worked for companies with fewer than 50 employees, said the report.

Even more disturbingly almost half of these deaths occurred in companies, which employed five or fewer workers.

In 2008, 229 workers of all types were fatally injured in the UK, with 72 deaths occuring in the construction industry according to the Health and Safety Executive.

‘Due to long term cuts in frontline Health and Safety Executive numbers, companies of this size are very rarely inspected, unless a major accident or a fatality occurs,’ said UCATT, the building workers union, who commissioned the report by the Centre for Corporate Accountability.

‘The level of convictions following major accidents and fatalities remains worryingly low,’ claimed UCATT.

UCATT called for an increase in the number of fully qualified frontline HSE inspectors, who need to take a more proactive approach in order to improve safety.

‘An increased number of inspectors need to be supported by a far tougher regime of enforcements and prosecutions,’ said the union.

Alan Ritchie, General Secretary of UCATT, said: ‘The HSE must introduce a zero tolerance approach to safety.’

UCATT also called for the introduction of statutory director’s duties. Which would require all companies to appoint a director responsible for health and safety. If serious safety lapses occurred and a worker died, there would be the possibility of the director responsible receiving a custodial sentence.

Mr Ritchie, added: “As the law stands a company boss is more likely to be sent to prison for not paying their taxes than killing one of his workers. It is an appalling state of affairs and sends a terrible message that we as a society consider life to be cheap.’

In the autumn of 2007 the HSE and the Institute of directors launched a voluntary code of directors duties. Despite the code being heavily publicised, research has found that just 30% of companies were aware of the code and this did not include small companies who were not surveyed. The number of companies who have actually implemented the voluntary code was not recoded.