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HSE staff crisis threat to lives

A STAFFING crisis at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is putting construction workers lives at risk, inspectors fear.

Morale among inspectors has hit an all-time low. Fears are growing that present staff cannot cope with construction.

Rookie recruits are being drafted in to fill the boots of experienced inspectors forced to leave the HSE under a mass clear-out programme.

Now worried inspectors have been voicing their fears to Construction News.

An inspector working in the South-West said: I have never known things so bad, we just cannot give the service.

The days when we went round hammering bad guys and helping the good guys are gone.

And one London-based inspector said: The main problem is a lack of experience.

I think the numbers have been miscalculated and we have lost too many experienced inspectors. Recruits are coming in with three or four years under their belts, which is nothing in construction terms.

It is a unique industry and you have to know it back to front. If the wrong decision is made on site the consequences can be disastrous.

Inspectors are also angry about the lack of funds pumped into the organisation and a recent computerisation programme which has turned the service into a bureaucratic nightmare.

A Home Counties inspector said: The whole service is suffering. A lot of contractors want advice on safety matters, but we just havent got the time for it.

The HSE has also come under fire for relaxing standards on complying with improvement notices issued to unsafe sites.

Contractors will be given a two week breathing space and a chance to appeal before the notices are issued.

The move has outraged construction union leaders and Labour employment spokes-man Michael Meacher, who has written an angry letter to the government.

Transport union TGWU construction secretary George Henderson said: This additional red tape means the inspectors will be able to devote less time to the vital task of preventing accidents, so we can expect to see an increase in serious injuries and deaths on site.

An HSE spokesman said: Individual staff are entitled to say whatever they like.

We have our highest ever number of construction inspectors. We have lost some experienced people, but they have been replaced with mid career inspectors.