UCATT warns Laing O'Rourke that new safety policy is dangerous

Construction union UCATT says Laing O’Rourke’s adoption of a new safety policy called ‘safety differently’ could erode the very foundations of the UK’s health and safety culture. The major constructor’s new health and safety policy focuses entirely on preventing fatalities, while neglecting actions which may cause minor injuries.

Laing O’Rourke’s new director of health and safety, Andy Sneddon, wants to adopt the teachings of Australia-based University Dutch professor Sidney Dekker who advocates sweeping away a lot of the detail in health and safety provision, and just concentrating on saving lives. UCATT points out that minor injuries on construction sites are a major problem for employees who can have their whole lives turned upside down by an injury at work. Often a so-called minor injury can lead to months off work, on barely any sick pay.

By focussing solely on fatalities there is concern that even less emphasis will be placed on occupational health issues and areas such as safe manual handling. This could lead to long term physical harm to construction workers, resulting in them being forced out of the industry early due to injury and ill health.

Trade unions have campaigned long and hard for improvements in health and safety in the workplace, in order to protect their members, and are stakeholders in the workplace environment. UCATT and other unions have built up trust by involving workers in health and safety improvements. Any changes to the how health and safety is handled would require consultation with unions and workers in order to have any shred of legitimacy.

UCATT Midlands Regional Secretary, Shaun Lee, said: “This policy of ‘safety differently’ could potentially wreck health and safety provision in the UK construction industry, which has taken years to develop. Small injuries are not small concerns for workers. By neglecting basic safety, we put workers’ health and futures at risk. Small injuries can mean significant loss of pay and significant psychological stress for the worker and their family. If we don’t have zero tolerance in the work place, then standards will slip and the number of injuries will increase.”

Mr Lee added: “This ‘safety differently’ philosophy is an academic theory without practical foundation. Allowing workers to suffer small injuries, while focusing just on saving lives, is not good for building workers. Building workers need to stay completely and entirely safe – and avoid all injuries.”

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