Casualisation still kills

Construction has a fatality rate five times the all-industry average, and causes by far the highest number of deaths of any industry, write Steve Tombs and Dave Whyte.

April 1, 2007
3 min read

The number of workers killed each year in construction in Britain has remained in the region of around 70-80 since 1996-1997. In London, construction employs five per cent of workers, but causes half of all deaths at work.

The reason that it is a killer industry is not that it is intrinsically dangerous. Most accidents are caused by easily preventable incidents such as falling through roofs or from ladders and scaffolds. What makes construction so dangerous is that workers are organised in a way that makes it very difficult for them to fight for improved safety.

Eighty-five per cent of the work in construction is done by subcontractors. The industry has a highly mobile workforce, with workers often moving from project to project on a short-term basis. This means that injuries often go unreported. Workers are commonly employed ‘cash in hand’, both as a means of reducing costs and as a way of driving down labour conditions in general on a site or a job. This is what the Shrewsbury pickets came out against. In total it is estimated that between £4.5 billion and £10 billion worth of construction work across the country is undertaken cash in hand.

Casualisation costs lives. Health and Safety Executive figures show that the annual injury rate for workers with short job tenure is 5.7 times that for workers whose job tenure is at least five years, while over one in five of all reportable injuries are sustained by workers who have been with an employer for less than a year.

The answer is the same as it was in 1972: construction workers must have real rights and be organised in strong trade unions that don’t get involved in sweetheart deals with employers (see Red Pepper, April 2004). The Hazards Campaign and the trade unions have long argued for a system of ‘roving’ safety reps that would be able to move from site to site, to provide inspections and represent building workers on issues of safety and to stop the job when there is an imminent risk of death or injury.

Extracted from Safety Crimes by Steve Tombs and Dave Whyte, forthcoming from Willan Publishing in June. For information on roving safety reps, see: www.hazards.org/ safetyreps/safetyreps.htm

Useful websites

The Centre for Corporate Accountability

The Simon Jones Memorial Campaign

Families Against Corporate Killing


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank