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by Our Industrial Reporter @TrinderMatt
UNITE warned today of a “shocking and frightening decline in vital unannounced” construction site inspections being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The number of surprise visits to assess workplace safety has plummeted by nearly a third — 31 per cent — in less than a decade, according to the responses to a series of freedom of information requests submitted by the union.
It said the data shows that the regulator carried out just 7,793 “proactive” or unannounced construction inspections in 2021-22, as opposed to 11,303 in 2013-14.
The sector, in which 30 people were killed at work in 2021-22, remains the most dangerous in Britain, Unite noted.
General secretary Sharon Graham said: “These figures are shocking, as they demonstrate that the HSE are either unwilling or unable to ensure the safety of construction workers.”
The official workplace safety regulator has suffered real-terms budget cuts of up to 50 per cent since 2010 due to Tory austerity, according to the TUC.
Ms Graham said: “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.”
The biggest regional decline in inspections was in Wales, where they fell by a massive 57 per cent, followed by south-east England with 51 per cent and London with 46 per cent.
Unite’s research also revealed a huge decline in the number of enforcement notices, which are issued to employers after an inspection has found a need for safety improvements.
The number issued more than halved from 2,293 in 2013-14 to just 1,119 in the most recent figures.
“The HSE must explain and justify the sharp decline in construction inspections,” said Unite national officer for construction Jason Poulter said.
“For too many employers, it is only the fear of being caught which ensures they follow safety laws.”
Hilda Palmer from the Hazards Campaign said that Unite's findings "expose yet more failures of the HSE to meet their mission statement to prevent deaths, injuries and illness at work."
She told the Morning Star: "Construction is one of the most dangerous industries and many employers are hostile to unions which, where they are able to organise, are proven to make workplaces far safer.
"Where there are no unions to make employers comply with health and safety law there must be a credible threat of enforcement if they fail to do so. When HSE’s unannounced preventative inspections, which can spot lack of compliance before it kills or injures, are reduced to such a low level then there is no credible threat and unscrupulous employers will endanger workers.
"The government and the [Department for Work and Pensions] must be held to account for the underfunding, deregulation and political interference in the HSE, resulting in the lack of prevention and protection of workers in construction, a dangerous industry where too many workers are not protected by the collective action of trade unions."
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."
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