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Effects of HSE Cuts

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The Government has announced a package of changes to the UK’s health and safety system, including a large cut in the number of at-work inspections. These cuts have a significant impact across not only the construction industry but also in terms of career opportunities within Health & Safety.

In April, construction’s largest union UCATT organised 21 memorial services across the UK for fatalities within the construction industry and with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) being accused of putting workers within the construction industry at risk – unions argue this anniversary has an added significance this year. With cuts of 35% to the industry’s safety watchdog – the HSE, coinciding with the fact that employers will no longer face automatic health and safety inspections, health and safety within the construction industry has been recently scrutinised in the media.

Will HSE cuts lead to more fatalities within the construction industry?
Each death within the construction industry is underpinned by the dangers of the working environment and sadly, as a result, the number of risks could increase if the already low levels of inspections and enforcement are reduced. George Guy, UCATT’s acting general secretary, said: “The Conservative-led government’s financial attacks on the HSE will make workplaces more dangerous and will lead to increased deaths and injuries of workers in future.” Reports suggest the number of construction related deaths is already on the rise. The HSE’s figures were revealed by its head of construction, Philip White, at the London conference on Safety Schemes in Procurement, earlier this month. The provisional statistics revealed that the 2010/2011 period saw an increase of 15% on last year’s low of 42 deaths. Meanwhile experts warn the increase may also be down to increasing client demands and corner-cutting during the recession. For example, companies are facing the consequences of pushing construction workers too hard – last month two construction firms in Northern Ireland were fined a total of £61,000 after 150 tonnes of concrete collapsed injuring six workers.

Beware of Rogue Traders
With fewer health and safety inspections, due to HSE cuts, the British Safety Council suggests a public debate is needed on how best to deal with the reality of fewer resources for public bodies involved in health and safety regulation. At the centre of the debate is how budget and staff cuts at the HSE will result in rogue traders and inspectors being increasingly unlikely to be visited by the HSE; with the threat of prosecution lessened as more corners are cut. This in turn will create an uneven playing field, in which rogue traders will be able to undercut legitimate businesses that are already vulnerable to cash flow pressures. Vigilance is a top priority to ensure fraudsters to not take advantage of organisations that are forced to cut corners. In light of this, added responsibility is placed with corporations creating a demand for high quality Health and Safety professionals within organisations.

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