Small construction firms employing undocumented workers are the most likely to have accidents in the workplace, many of which go unreported.
The so called A2 workers – mostly Romanian and Bulgarian nationals – are EU citizens without an automatic right to work in the U.K. – unlike their Polish neighbours who flocked to Britain in the nineties and are just as able to work here legally as any other EU citizens.
Estimates put the number of A2 workers in Britain at close to a quarter of a million, most of them working on the margins of the construction and hospitality industries. Most of them do not have NI numbers as they need work permits organised before they leave their own countries to be able to apply for them as A2 citizens.
The true scale of A2 illegal workers is hard to document as many workers state they are self employed when asked by the police. Because many are working for small construction companies without union protection, they are reluctant to report accidents that happen at work. Similarly, the employers are not prepared to admit that an accident has taken place as the conditions in which they were employing these workers are likely to be brought under the spotlight.
According to the construction unions, nearly 80% of accidents in that industry are thought to go unreported, many of them happening to illegal workers who have either not been given any safety instructions when operating machinery or are unable to understand them as their level of English is too poor.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does not record information about the nationality of workers who have accidents reported, and says that there are no penalties if A2 workers report them, but acknowledge that many will probably not do so.
The HSE head of operations for construction for the South East of England, Richard Boland, said that there were many undocumented workers who deliberately sought out small construction companies who had fewer safety rules as these were more likely to employ them.
Under British law, any employer who does not report an accident is likely to be fined. Small construction companies are reluctant to admit liability and face a personal injury claim against them as they feel it reduces their chance of getting further building contracts.