Keeping Apprentices Safe in the Construction Industry

Keeping Apprentices Safe in the Construction Industry

18th August 2015

While the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) has been a welcome development for most industries in the UK, the construction industry in particular has welcomed the venture as a great way of ensuring that in the future there should be no shortage of people with the skills and knowledge needed to keep UK construction as a major player in the economy. With the government funding apprenticeship training in full for 16 – 19 year olds and in part for adults, employers and encouraged to offer sufficient opportunities to make sure the scheme is a success.

However, the tragic death of 16 year old Cameron Minshull in January, 2013 highlights the fact that working in some industries can be risky and that the health and safety of all employees while in the workplace ultimately lies with the employer. Last month, the case was heard at Manchester Crown Court where Zaffar Hussain, director of Huntley Mount Engineering was given an eight month jail sentence as a result of Cameron’s fatal injuries whilst at work. Cameron was working on a government approved apprenticeship at the local engineering factory in Bury, Lancashire when he was injured by a lathe that had no safety guards. Manchester Crown Court found that Hussain, the factory boss was aware of the dangers to which Cameron was exposed, citing that the use of low-paid, inexperienced workers with a lack of training was a “significant aggravating feature”. Although the judge accepted that this was not a case of deliberate cost cutting for profit over safety, it seems that instructions were inadequate and that Cameron’s death could easily have been avoided had this not been the case.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) reacted to the news of the recent court case with a call for better protection for apprentices in the workplace. According to Matthew Creagh of the TUC’s Unionlearn Research and Strategy Team, the teenager was failed by the employer, the training provider who placed him with the company and the government. Apparently, this was not an isolated case although neither the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) nor the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) keep records of just how many apprentices are injured in the workplace.

The campaign group that supported Cameron’s family through the court case, Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), believe that over the past ten years an average of five under 19s have been fatally injured every year and 5,000 injured. These figures are just unacceptable and with the government planning 3 million more apprenticeships over the next five years, this is a problem that must be addressed immediately.

The National Apprenticeship Service was launched in 2008 by the Labour Government but the last government removed the requirement for employers to demonstrate that they had a proper health and safety policy in place before apprenticeships were placed. The TUC is calling for wide-ranging action including a “comprehensive health and safety risk assessment” of both providers and prospective employers before handing over any SFA cash. The TUC is also advocating that health and safety incidents involving apprentices be reported to the SFA and made publicly available. This would enable the SFA and the HSE to investigate any incidents and remove funding and cease to work with particular employers where necessary.