The number of Health and Safety Executive inspections in construction has fallen by more than half in the past five years, according to a new report.
The survey, commissioned by public sector union Unison, also claims that the HSE failed to investigate 15 deaths in construction between 1996 and 2001.

The report, carried out by the Centre for Corporate Accountability, says that the number of inspections in the construction sector fell by 52% in the five years ending 2001, falling from 37,774 in 1996/7 to 17,908.

The report also claims that in the year 2000-01 only 22% of explosions in the construction sector were investigated.

Hugh Robertson, Unison's head of health and safety, said that this fall in the number of inspections was not the way to prevent deaths and injuries at work. He called for the HSE to be given more money so that it could beef up the inspection service. He said: "The answer lies in more resources. We need the HSE to be proactively supporting employers, but we also need more inspections, more investigations and more prosecutions of criminal employers."

Researchers found that the HSE had inspected one in 10 construction sites in the year 2000/1. They also found that the HSE had investigated 23% of serious injuries reported during the same period and 4.9% of all injuries. In a league table of six, the report placed construction above the energy and service sectors but behind the manufacturing and agricultural industries.

An HSE spokesperson said the figures cited in the report were inaccurate as they were compiled from raw data that had not been verified.

We need more HSE inspections, more investigations and more prosecutions of criminal employers

Unison senior official Hugh Robertson

She said that the reduction in inspections was because of a strategic shift by the HSE.

She noted: "The number of inspections across all industries has fallen from 95,000 in 1997/8 to 65,000 in 2001/2, but this is due to more resources being put into accident investigations."

She added that after a review of resources in 2000, it was found that conclusions drawn from accident investigations could help the HSE's principal aim of preventing accidents.

The spokesperson also said that the number of deaths in the industry had fallen this year by 20% from 105 in 2000/1 to 79 in 2001/2, which she said vindicated the HSE's change in emphasis.

The report also found that in 2000/1, significant numbers of the most common industrial diseases were not investigated, including 590 of 889 hand–arm vibrations, 221 of the 477 cases of occupational dermatitis and 89 of the 161 cases of carpel tunnel syndrome. It also concluded that 73 out of 128 building collapses were not investigated during 2000/1.