Refurbishment specialists will be targeted in a Health and Safety Executive crackdown this spring after figures showed more than two-thirds of the construction industry’s 42 fatalities occurred in the sector.
Data showed 29 people were killed in 2009/10 while carrying out refurbishment, repair and maintenance jobs, accounting for 69 per cent of the total deaths across the industry.
HSE head of operations Mike Cross said the figures showed the refurbishment sector was lagging behind other areas, which had made significant improvements in recent years.
While the total number of fatalities in the sector has not increased significantly over the last five years, up from 28 last year and 24 in 2005/6, the proportion of overall deaths it represents has leapt as other areas have become safer.
The number of deaths in new build has halved in the last five years, falling from 16 to eight, while the roads, civils and demolitions sectors combined accounted for five deaths in 2009/10, a quarter of their 2005 total.
Mr Cross said the fall-off in new build activity caused by the recession had played its part in influencing the numbers but that the stats highlighted a deeper problem.
“Different parts of the industry have improved at different rates but refurbishment is not demonstrating the improvements we are seeing elsewhere.
“There are a number of factors behind it but one is that there are a higher percentage of smaller businesses operating in this sector.”
More than 150 inspectors will be involved in the operation over the next three months, visiting firms nationwide.
The unannounced visits will start on 14 February and will focus on three crucial areas; working at height, asbestos exposure and site order, with a view to cracking down on trips and falls.
It is the fifth year the HSE has conducted such a campaign, with last year resulting in 320 prohibition notices to stop dangerous work after 2,014 site visits to 2,414 contractors.
Chief inspector Philip White said inspectors would particularly be looking to see if asbestos surveys had been carried out prior to refurbishment work.
He said: “Many workers believe that, because asbestos has been banned as a building material, it’s no longer a threat to them. But that simply isn’t true. Any premises built or refurbished before 2000 could contain asbestos.”
Kier Building maintenance national operations director Keith Watson said while larger refurbishment firms had worked hard to improve their records, there were still “cultural issues with some smaller businesses which need to be addressed”.
“The refurbishment sector is harder to police as it includes a lot of smaller independent operators or ‘white van men’,” he added.