HC Deb 24 February 1960 vol 618 cc344-8
5. Dr. Stross

asked the Minister of Labour what further action has been taken to cover by regulations works of engineering construction since 11th March, 1959, following the death of four men on the partly-built high-level bridge at Barton; and whether he has noted the recommendation to this effect of the jury at the recent inquest on two men who were also killed.

9. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Labour if, following the fatal accidents at Barton Bridge and elsewhere and the recommendations of the juries concerned, he will accelerate the introduction of safety regulations for constructional and civil engineering.

13. Sir S. Storey

asked the Minister of Labour if he will now make a statement about the report of the Factory Inspectorate upon the recent accident on the new Barton Bridge, and upon the recommendation of the jury at the inquest on the two men who were killed.

16. Mr. Proctor

asked the Minister of Labour if he is now in a position to make a further statement regarding the accident at Barton Bridge, Eccles; and what steps Her Majesty's Government intends to take, following the recommendations of the jury at the inquest upon the victims, to accelerate the introduction of safety regulations for engineering works of construction.

Mr. Heath

The recommendations of the jury at the inquest on the Barton Bridge accident were, first, that the main contractor should appoint a fully qualified co-ordination officer, and secondly that legislation should be introduced to ensure the safety of all concerned with this type of work. On the first I am glad to say that the main contractor has appointed a full-time professional consultant engineer and a full-time safety officer on the site. On the second recommendation, there have been discussions with interested organisations in recent months, and I am now taking action on the following lines. I propose to extend the definition of "work of engineering construction" in the Factories Acts to include virtually all civil and constructional engineering work, and I hope to make regulations before Easter. A preliminary draft of special regulations to cover lifting operations on all types of construction work was issued on 17th February. Regulations dealing with general safety provisions on construction work are being drafted and will be sent out shortly. A statutory draft of regulations covering diving operations was published earlier this week.

Dr. Stross

Is the Minister aware that the draft regulations were originally formulated in 1945 and were revised and brought forward again in 1951? Is he further aware that when in March 1 raised a similar Question, after the first accident at the installation, I was told that the regulations would be brought in piecemeal, some of them last year, but that none of them was brought forward? Will the right hon. Gentleman make use of Section 68 of the parent Act, the 1937 Act, and make a full examination of what occurred on this and the previous occasion?

Mr. Heath

I am aware of the history of action in connection with these matters. There are difficulties, because the Minister is obliged to carry out a procedure to try to obtain agreement about the regulations which are to be issued. A new approach is now being made in that I have decided to widen the definition, as I have described in this Answer, and then to make regulations accordingly to deal with the problem. I think that the House will agree that the coroner carried out a thorough inquest into the recent accident. The inquest took a considerable time and many witnesses were called. I do not believe that further information can now be obtained by having an inquiry under Section 68.

Mr. Frank Allaun

As the constructional engineering union has a death rate from accidents higher than that of any other union, does the Minister's Answer mean that specific codes covering individual operations in construction work will be issued and published before Easter?

Mr. Heath

Yes. We are approaching it by having a number of groups of regulations of this kind. I have specified those for diving operations, which were published earlier this week, and those for lifting operations which were published on 17th February. That is the approach which we are adopting.

Sir S. Storey

Are these regulations to be enforced by the Factory Inspectorate? If so, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that he will have adequate manpower fully qualified to deal with this work, as in the past there has been a shortage of factory inspectors in this area? Will he consider asking his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport when making a grant to a local authority which undertakes civil engineering contracts on his behalf to make it a condition that the authority should appoint safety officers, such as has now been done at Barton Bridge?

Mr. Heath

Responsibility for arrangements for a safety officer rests on the employer and not on the local authority, but I will discuss with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport the point which has been made. Responsibility for inspection under the regulations will, of course, rest with the Factory Inspectorate. Since the Factories Act, 1959, was passed, there has been an increase in the number of inspectors, but there is a later Question about qualifications in connection with work of this kind.

Mr. Proctor

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the revelations of the inquest and the inquiry show grave inefficiency? Does he agree that labour relations at this site were very bad and that it is imperative that sub-contractors should be efficient? Will he consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport with a view to ensuring the efficiency of sub-contractors in future?

Mr. Heath

The coroner gave a very full summing-up at the inquest and the jury reached its verdict and made two recommendations. I prefer not to comment any further on those points. On the question about efficiency, I think that it is satisfactory that both a full-time consultant engineer and a full-time safety officer have now been appointed on this site.

Mr. Robens

I assume that I am right in saying that the regulations which the Minister is to produce are not debatable in the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, be good enough to publish the report of the factory inspector on the Barton Bridge accident so that we may have an opportunity to consider the regulations along with the inspector's report?

Mr. Heath

I gave careful consideration to the possibility of publishing the inspector's report, but the right hon. Gentleman will recall, from his own period in office, that it has been the custom that individual reports by factory inspectors on individual accidents should remain confidential to the Minister. I have come to the conclusion that the best way of handling these reports is not to publish an individual report but to leave it to the Chief Factory Inspector, if he wishes, to comment on any particular aspects in his Annual Report. Perhaps I can discuss the question of debating the regulations with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.