Unite union has warned workers’ lives are being put at risk after an investigation revealed the number of frontline health and safety inspectors has been reduced by a quarter over the past seven years.
Following a Freedom of Information request, Unite found that since 2010 there has been a 25 per cent reduction in the number of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors.
In 2010 there were 1,311 frontline inspectors but by the end of December 2016 that number had reduced to just 980, it says.
The cut in inspectors follows another FOI which revealed that it takes on average more than three years from a fatal workplace accident until those responsible are brought to justice.
“HSE inspectors play a vital role in keeping workers safe. Rogue bosses who are prepared to break safety laws, are only kept in check by the fear of being caught and punished. Fewer inspectors mean more bosses willing to risk workers’ lives to boost profits,” said Unite acting general secretary Gail Cartmail.
“It is clear that the HSE is being denied the resources to undertake its role properly. In these circumstances it is more important than ever that union safety reps are given the training, support and time to conduct their duties and keep their fellow workers safe. However rather than boosting the rights and powers of safety reps the Conservative government has been intent on making their role even more difficult.
“All political parties need to give a pledge to make workplace safety a priority and commit to giving the HSE the proper resources to undertake its role effectively and ensure workers are safe at work.”
A spokesman for HSE said: “HSE helps maintain Great Britain as one of the safest places to work in the world, completing around 20,000 inspections annually, assessing and licensing major hazard activities, investigating all incidents meeting the HSE Board’s selection criteria and taking proportionate enforcement action. Our performance in dealing with investigations has improved significantly, particularly for fatal incidents.
“The construction sector is a priority for HSE. We have teams of dedicated construction specialists across England, Scotland and Wales who target the highest risk sites and activities.
“Through improved targeting we have been able to direct inspectors to tackle more serious risks, and this inevitably means that inspections take longer. However, we do not measure our impact simply by counting the number of inspections.
“In addition to planned inspections, we also respond to concerns about unsafe construction activities and investigate cases of ill health and injury, and provide advice to employers and workers. We remain actively committed to improving standards in the construction industry through the full range of options available to us.”