The Health & Safety Executive inspectors visited 1,748 repair and refurbishment sites and found unacceptable conditions and dangerous practices at roughly 700 of them.
One in five was so bad that formal enforcement action was required. Many of the issues found could have been easily prevented with simple, straightforward management and planning, the HSE said.
The focus of the spot checks was on health risks and 35% of the notices served related to the management of asbestos, failure to control dusts, noise and vibration, and inadequate welfare facilities.
However safe working at height was once again confirmed as the industry’s most widespread failing. Failure to provide basic safety measures for people working at height accounted for 42% per cent of all enforcement notices served during the campaign.
HSE chief of construction Philip White said: “These results show that whilst the majority of employers in the refurbishment sector are getting it right, a significant part of the industry is seriously failing its workers.
“The inability to properly plan working at height continues to be a major issue, despite well-known safety measures being straightforward to implement. It is just not acceptable that Inspectors had to order work to stop immediately on over 200 occasions because of dangerous practices.
“We also find health is often overlooked as its implications are not immediately visible, however the effects of uncontrolled exposure to deadly dusts such as asbestos and silica can be irreversible. We urge industry to ensure the most basic of measures such as use of protective equipment and dust suppression methods are put in place to help protect the future health of workers.
“We need to continue to educate industry through initiatives like this and encourage a change in behaviour on small projects where over half the industry’s fatal accidents still occur and many workers become seriously ill.”
Construction union Ucatt said that the HSE’s findings indicated that mismanagement of sites was a widespread problem. General secretary Steve Murphy said: “These findings are simply appalling. Time after time employers are putting workers in danger. The HSE inspections only touch a tiny fraction of construction sites and most construction workers never see an HSE inspector unless a major accident has occurred.
“The HSE are uncovering basic and straightforward safety breaches. It is imperative that far greater emphasis is applied to uncovering dangerous construction practices and prosecuting the guilty. Construction employers will never improve safety unless they fear being caught.”