Construction firms seek urgent talks with insurers

Construction firms are seeking urgent talks with insurance companies, following the demise of cover for small roofing contractors.

According to Construction Confederation external relations manager Kurt Calder, contractors' inability to buy liability cover was close to reaching "crisis point", with calls pouring in from members unable to buy insurance.

Calder said the confederation planned to request talks with the ABI on the issue.

"There really is a problem and we've got to address it," he said.

"We've got to speak to the ABI to see what can be done."

He said the greatest danger was that some contractors might be tempted to work without employers' liability cover.

The confederation spoke out as brokers warned that the last large-scale writer of small roofing risks had stopped taking business.

The Underwriter chief executive Keith Rutter confirmed that he had run out of capacity for roofers.

"We're full to overflowing," he said.

Rutter said some insurers were still taking small amounts of roofing business, but that there was no large market left for trade.

Broker John Curran runs the Construction Specialists Insurance Bureau for the Confederation of Construction Specialists, offering niche products such as post-construction guarantee cover.

He said he did not know of any insurer accepting large amounts of roofing business.

"Roofers can get their business placed only if they have a broker that has a good relationship with an insurer who may consider an individual case, despite the general prohibition," he said.

"I've been in the industry since 1961 and I've never had the carpet snatched away like this."

Curran said scaffolders were in a similar situation to roofers in their inability to get cover.

Construction specialist Joe Arthur of broker Wilson Associates estimated that up to 50% of roofing contractors already worked without any liability cover.

"Some will have made themselves uninsurable through repeated accidents, others won't want to pay the huge premium increases put to them," he said.

Arthur said brokers needed to establish a system of random safety audits for contractors so insurers felt more comfortable about re-entering the sector.

"It's time for brokers and insurers to push aside the aggravation that normally occurs and create a safety partnership," he said.

"They need to say to contractors that if they want to come on to a scheme, they have to undergo random audits.

"Brokers need to be able to go back to insurers with the results, no accidents and no deaths, and ask them to come back into the market.

"The improved statistics will speak out."