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HS2 safety breaches on the rise in London

1 Oct 21 Reports are emerging of a growing number of lost-time injuries among workers on the HS2 project in London.

The Unite union is attributing the deteriorating safety record of the Skanska Costain Strabag joint venture, SCS Railways, to its poor relations with the trade union and lack of union safety reps.

The latest lost time injury incident for SCS accident occurred earlier this week when a worker suffered arm injuries after being struck by clay falling from height. This resulted in a safety shutdown on the project, Unite has revealed.

In recent weeks Unite understands there have been several other potentially serious incidents. A lorry overturned into a ditch, a skill saw blade came off its mooring and shot across the site, a hammer broke a worker’s wrist and a digger bucket hit a worker’s foot.

Several of these incidents were judged to be so serious that they resulted in safety shutdowns, creating delays on the project.

All these accidents are said to have occurred on the section of the project which is being built by SCS, which unlike other HS2 principal contractors, has not reached an access agreement with the unions.

Unite wants to be able to meet SCS worker in their canteen and welfare facilities – what it calls ‘meaningful access’ to the site.

SCS says that it has offered Unite access to the site and to the welfare area, just not the canteen, because it wants work crews to be able to eat in peace.

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Despite the reported upturn in safety breaches at SCS, its RIDDOR incident rate since 2019 is 0.04, which is the lowest among all HS2 civils contractors, accouting for five of the 22 incidents on HS2 since 2019.

The number of RIDDOR incidents recorded by HS2 Ltd each year has grown in line with the rise in construction activity taking place. Across all HS2 sites there were three RIDDOR incidents in the year ending 31st March 2019, five in the year to March 2020, eight in the 2020/21 year and six in the first half of this year (implying, pro rata, 12 for the full year).

Over that time, construction activity on the HS2 project has moved from enabling works to main civils construction, bringing thousands more staff onto sites.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “Workers operating on the Skanska Costain Strabag joint venture will be rightly worried and concerned for their safety. The fact no worker has been killed is simply a matter of luck. This project is crying out for union safety reps who play a unique role in protecting workers and preventing accidents.

“The fact that the site does not have safety reps is a direct result of the union busting tactics of Skanska Costain Strabag. If HS2 and the joint venture company are serious about improving safety they need to immediately end union busting and allow Unite to organise workers and elect safety reps.”

Asked to comment, SCS supplied a previously issued statement: “We have offered Unite access to our sites, which exceeds levels usually seen across the industry. This enables them to meet our team at inductions, work sites and our welfare area. We first offered this to Unite in 2018 and on numerous occasions since. We continue to make contact with them to reiterate this offer as we seek to maintain an open dialogue with Unite and to allow them to carry out their activities.  To date they have not taken up this offer. However it remains open to them.”

An HS2 Ltd spokesperson did not deny Unite’s accounts of a growing number of incidents of SCS sites when invited to comment. They said only: “The safety of our workforce and the public is HS2’s number one priority. We have an open and transparent reporting culture, and all health and safety incidents are fully investigated, key learnings and actions for HS2 and our contractors identified, and these are then shared across the project. All those who work on HS2 have the right to go home unharmed, and we continue to work with and challenge our contractors to provide the highest levels of health and safety standards.”

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