The chances of a prosecution appear to be receding and, where they do go ahead, it is taking longer.
Labour MP Stephen Hepburn tabled a series of questions on the topic in the House of Commons. Responses from junior work & pensions minister Justin Tomlinson revealed that conviction rates following a fatal construction accident had fallen from 51% in 2007/8 to just 35% in 2012/13.
Health & Safety Executive research indicates that management failures are a contributory cause of 70% of construction fatalities.
The low conviction rates do not appear to be due to a high level of not guilty verdicts as in recent years the HSE has achieved an overall conviction rate of between 91% and 95%.
Mr Hepburn’s questions also revealed that since 2005 the average time between a construction worker being killed and a prosecution being approved was 751 days, although it takes even longer to reach a conviction. However 30% of cases took more than three years to reach prosecution stage.
The length of time between a fatality and the start of a prosecution has increased further 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 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.”
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.”
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.”