Death firms duck fines

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The Independent Online

British construction companies are calling on the Government to act against foreign firms who evade fines from British courts for health and safety breaches.

British construction companies are calling on the Government to act against foreign firms who evade fines from British courts for health and safety breaches.

The Construction Confederation this week urged Home Secretary Jack Straw to push for a multilateral convention which would prevent foreign companies operating in the UK from escaping punishment.

It follows the conclusion of separate court cases involving two foreign construction firms. Both have managed to avoid fines levied against them.

Six people died in Ramsgate in 1994 when a Swedish-designed and built walkway collapsed. Three Austrian-designed tunnels collapsed during construction of the Heathrow Express, also in 1994. Both firms were found guilty of breaching health and safety law.

Sweden's Fartygskonstrukioner was ordered to pay £1m plus £251,000 costs, while Austria's Geoconsult was fined £500,000 with £100,000 costs.

Earlier this week Uxbridge magistrates suggested that the Health and Safety Executive write off Geoconsult's £500,000 fine following the company's repeated failure to appear in court to explain why no payment had been made.

The decision has provoked fury from UK-based construction companies who want the Government to take tough action against foreign firms flouting health and safety law.

Construction Confederation European director John Bromley said: "To enforce domestic health and safety laws the member states need to negotiate a multilateral convention - like the one agreed to ensure that banned motorists do not take to the road in other EU states.

"In effect, there are two sets of rules that apply on construction sites, one for United Kingdom contractors and another for foreign contractors who know they have full immunity if things go wrong."

The Home Office is known to be looking at ways of enforcing fines across borders, but it has yet to confirm how this will be achieved.

The issue was raised at a European Council summit in Finland last October, where member states agreed to the principle of mutual recognition.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Government is pursuing the question of how to enforce penalties across national boundaries.

"The aim is to deliver a requirement that each member state recognises as valid, certain pre- and post-conviction decisions, with the minimum of fuss - and enforcement of fines would be part of that recognition," the spokesman added.

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