Sharp fall in construction inspections revealed as building regulations come under scrutiny

The union Unite was seeking urgent meetings with ministers and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a freedom of information (FOI) request revealed a sharp drop in construction inspections.

The new coincides with news that more than 700 organisations and individuals have signed an open letter to UK prime minister Theresa May which challenges arbitrary deregulation of health and safety.

The result of the FOI request revealed that the number of unannounced inspections occurring in the construction industry fell by 14% in just 12 months. In 2015/16 there were 9,219 inspections, which reduced to 7,912 in 2016/17. The reduction in inspections follows a trend as there was also a 4% decrease in the previous 12 months.

Construction is the most dangerous industry in the UK. Unite said several academic studies have revealed a clear correlation between the frequency of inspections and compliance with safety laws.

Since receiving the FOI response Unite has written to the HSE and David Gauke the new work and pensions secretary, seeking meetings to find out future plans for the HSE and safety laws. The HSE’s funding is set to be cut by 46%, compared to what the organisation received in 2010, by 2020.

“Successive Conservative governments have scrapped safety laws and there are concerns this could increase as part of the Brexit process,” Unite said in a release.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower blaze, global health and safety professionals, leading academics and some MPs have joined leading organisations in signing a letter to Theresa May.

Sent to 10 Downing Street on Wednesday June 21, it calls for a shift in politicians’ attitudes towards health and safety regulation and fire risk management in the aftermath of this latest tragedy.

“We believe it is totally unacceptable for residents, members of the public and our emergency services to be exposed to this level of preventable risk in modern-day Britain,” the letter said.

It also urges the UK Government to complete its review of Part B of the Building Regulations 2010 – which cover fire safety within and around buildings in England – as a matter of urgency, and to include a focus on improved safety in the forthcoming Parliament.

The four organisations that originally signed the letter – the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH); Park Health and Safety; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA); and the British Safety Council – have now been joined by other leading professional bodies. 

They include the Association for Project Safety (APS), Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM), National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH), Trades Union Congress (TUC), and Unite.

Lawrence Waterman OBE CFIOSH, of Park Health and Safety Partnership which led health and safety for the London Olympic Delivery Authority, said: “Grenfell has raised doubts in the minds of the decent-minded over whether building safety regulations are stringent enough, whether the government is setting the bar too low. 

“And that’s why we, in the safety sector, want Theresa May and her Ministers to rethink their ‘one in, three out’ approach to deregulation that includes health and safety.”

A recent accident on site that appears to underline Unite’s cause involved a crane collapse in Crewe that killed two workers and injured several other people.

“Workers on construction sites throughout the UK will now have serious questions and concerns about the safety of similar cranes,” Unite national officer for construction Bernard McAulay, said. “It is imperative that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigates and as a matter of urgency provides advice and reassurance to ensure that similar accidents cannot and will not happen again.”