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HSE beefs up safety crackdown

The Health and Safety Executive is to massively increase its supervision of healthy and safety on construction sites, hiking the number of inspectors it has by a third.

As many as 50 additional inspectors could be working in the Health and Safety Executive’s construction division by the summer. The HSE’s new chief inspector for construction Philip White, who officially took up his post a fortnight ago, has confirmed the number of frontline inspectors will be boosted from its current all-time low of about 125 to up to 175.

The decision to up staff numbers is a u-turn from the firm public stance of recently-departed chief Stephen Williams, who regularly reiterated there were no future plans to increase inspector levels.

Last summer Mr Williams told Construction News: “We are aiming to maintain our current level. Clearly any chief inspector would like to have more resources – but how many more?

“We will never have unlimited resources. And what does it say about an industry if the only way they’ll manage health and safety is by threat?”

The turnaround follows strong criticism by contractors, trade bodies, unions and even the work and pensions select committee, which last year demanded that without an increase in frontline inspectors the number of fatalities in construction would continue to rise.

It also comes in light of the Government’s inquiry into the underlying causes of construction accident fatalities, in which chair Rita Donaghy has been charged with making recommendations on any shortfalls in the HSE department.

The much-anticipated boost will include about 20 trainees, which will start with the HSE this month.

Mr White said he would then be “recruiting up to 30 additional inspectors to work within the construction division - over and above the HSE campaign to attract trainees”.

He said: “We anticipate the group will be coming on-stream, working in the division, from June onwards. I think this is good news.”

The recruitment has been focused on the Scottish industrial belt, Manchester, the East and West Midlands and London.

The new experienced inspectors, who will start on initial two-year contracts, will have limited powers but the HSE has said that this is so they can concentrate on “preventive inspection rather than investigation”.

It is understood they will be directed to spend most of their time “on the ground” and will be fully warranted to serve enforcement notices and fines.

Mr White could not confirm how many of the 30 experienced inspectors would stay on past their first two-year contract, but said: “We will wait to see how it works.”

The HSE’s construction division currently comprises about 125 full-time inspectors and a further 20 line managers.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has been calling for an eventual doubling in the number of frontline inspectors, in particular after the release of the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s Strategy for Sustainable Construction which details ambitious targets for injury rates.

As well as the much-welcomed resources boost, Mr White has also thrown his support behind the HSE advisory panel Coniac. The future of the group has been up in the air since October, when plans were discussed to shut it down and transfer its work to the Strategic Forum for Construction.

But at a meeting last week Mr White, the body’s new chairman, said he was “confident” Coniac would not face the axe because construction was such “a key priority” for the HSE.

He encouraged the board to closely align its upcoming 2009/10 workplan to the HSE’s new five-year strategy in the hope of being taken off the regulator’s chopping block.

Mr White said: “The HSE board is still considering the future role of advisory committees and ad hoc bodies that advise it.

“We have to get a plan of work for their April meeting [and we] need to look carefully at the key themes in the strategy.”

Head of construction policy Anthony Lees agreed that “for the workplan to have credibility it needs to look at how it supports the new [HSE] strategy”.

Mr White said a decision on Coniac’s future would likely not be known until the summer.

The HSE is also setting up a new working group to evaluate the effectiveness of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations and “shed any light” on areas where the laws could be improved.

Mr Lees said: “What we are facing is to deliver a review of the regulation in 2010. We are starting to prepare for that work.

“The review will [weigh up] benefits and costs. It will seek to reveal how successful CDM 2007 has been in achieving its objectives and to shed light on any lessons that can be learnt.”

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