Regulator blames COVID but union says sector was in full swing without proper inspection regime
Safety checks on building sites have fallen by 31% over the past eight years, according to Freedom of Information (FOI) data obtained by the Unite trade union.
Unannounced inspections undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have dropped from 11,303 visits in 2013/14 to just 7,793 in 2021/22, Unite discovered.
Across the regions the biggest decline was in Wales, where inspections fell by 57%, followed by the South East at 51%, and London at 46%.
The union described the figures as “shocking” and “frightening” as construction is already the most dangerous industry in the UK in which to work. Last year 30 workplace deaths were recorded in the sector.
Sharon Graham, Unite General Secretary said: “These figures are shocking, as they demonstrate that the HSE are either unwilling or unable to ensure the safety of construction workers.
“Construction is a dangerous industry, made more dangerous by unscrupulous employers who risk workers’ lives by ignoring safety laws. If the HSE fails to ensure safety, then deaths and injuries will increase.
“The safest sites are union organised workplaces where independent union safety reps are able to challenge safety concerns and keep their fellow workers safe. Unite is unstinting in its campaign to increase organisation and reduce deaths throughout the construction industry.”
Jason Poulter, Unite National Officer for Construction said: “The HSE must explain and justify the sharp decline in construction inspections. For too many employers it is only the fear of being caught which ensures they follow safety laws.”
“Inspections are only one part of what [HSE does] to keep workers safe.”
A HSE spokesperson said: “The number of inspections we carried out while COVID restrictions were in place was inevitably lower. The number has increased significantly in the last year, focused on sites with the highest risk to workers. Inspections are only one part of what we do to keep workers safe.”
They added that, during the pandemic, the HSE carried out over 400,000 COVID safety spot checks, across all workplaces, to reduce the risk posed by COVID-19 transmission. They said: “During the spot checks, HSE provided advice and guidance to manage risk and protect workers, customers and visitors, but where some businesses were not managing this, HSE would take immediate action.
“This could range from the provision of giving specific advice, issuing enforcement notices, stopping certain work practices until they were made safe and, where businesses failed to comply, it could lead to prosecution.”
However, Unite hit back saying that the construction sector was back to full swing by 2021/22 so this was no excuse for the drop in unannounced safety inspections.
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