Unite exposes ‘frightening’ drop in construction safety inspections

Unite exposes 'frightening' drop in construction safety inspections

Inspections have declined by 31% in less than a decade

Research by the Unite union has revealed a “shocking and frightening” decline in vital unannounced construction inspections being undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

A series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests has discovered that inspections have declined by 31% in less than a decade. In 2013/14 the HSE undertook 11,303 proactive (unannounced) construction inspections but the figures for the last full year 2021/22 reveals that just 7,793 inspections took place.

The sector remains the most dangerous in the UK, making safety inspections vital to protect the safety of workers. Earlier this month it was revealed that 30 construction workers were killed at work in 2021/22.

Unite 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.

“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 challenges 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 declines in inspections was in Wales, where inspections declined by 57%, followed by the South East (51%) and London (46%).

Unite’s research has also revealed a huge decline in the number of enforcement notices (which are issued to employers to ensure that safety improvements are made) following an inspection. The issuing of these has declined by 51% from 2,293 in 2013/14 to just 1,119 in 2021/22.

Unite national officer for construction Jason Poulter 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.”

The HSE attributed the 2021/22 figures to the covid pandemic.

“The number of inspections we carried out while covid restrictions were in place was inevitably lower,” a spokesperson said. “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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