Increase in prosecution delays and fall in convictions following construction deaths

A series of parliamentary questions has revealed a sharp drop in convictions following the fatal accidents of construction workers. It has also been discovered that even when there is a prosecution there are increasing delays before the process even begins.

The questions were tabled by Stephen Hepburn Labour MP for Jarrow who has previously taken an interest in construction fatalities.

In answering Mr Hepburn’s questions, Justin Tomlinson MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, at the Department for Work and Pensions, revealed that conviction rates following a fatal construction accident had fallen from 51% in 2007/8 to just 35% in 2012/13.

The fall in conviction rates is despite research from the Health and Safety Executive indicating that in 70 per cent of construction deaths, management failures caused or contributed to the deaths. A previous internal HSE internal audit estimated that prosecutions should occur following 60 per cent of construction deaths.

Brian Rye, Acting General Secretary, of construction union UCATT, said: “These aren’t meaningless figures these are human tragedies. They demonstrate that killer bosses are getting away scot free following the death of workers. Construction workers deserve to know why convictions are so low.”

The low conviction rates do not appear to be due to a high level of not guilty verdicts as in recent years the HSE have achieved an overall conviction rate of between 91%-95%.

Mr Hepburn’s questions also revealed that since 2005 the average time between a fatal accident and a prosecution being approved was 751 days, although it takes even longer before a conviction occurred. However 15 per cent of cases did not reach the prosecution stage until between 3-4 years after a worker’s death.

A follow up question by Mr Hepburn revealed that the length of time between a fatality and the start of a prosecution had further increased in the last five years. In 2014/15 the average number of days between a fatal accident and a prosecution had increased to 879 days.

Mr Rye added: “The length of time between a fatal accident and a prosecution is far too long. Justice needs to be done but it must be done more quickly. The families who have lost a loved one should not have their lives put on hold for so long.”

Mr Hepburn said: “These figures reveal there is something terribly wrong in how we are dealing with workplace accidents. From an already poor base we have seen a serious decline in conviction rates and an increase in delays before a prosecution even begins. This is causing human misery and the Government must not turn a blind eye to these failures.”

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