Government funding cuts force health watchdog to halt recruitment in construction division despite rising death rate

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has had a moratorium placed on staff recruitment across its construction division, deepening the resources crisis in the organisation.

Building understands that cuts introduced by the government have meant that the HSE has not been able to replace staff leaving many of its divisions, including construction.

David Thomas, the HSE’s main policy adviser on work at height, has this week handed in his notice, meaning his department, which covers the cause of most serious site accidents, is likely to be among the first to be affected by the rule.

It is believed that Thomas’ responsibilities could now be split between three members of HSE staff, including a tunnelling and an architecture expert, although the HSE said no decision had been taken on the future of the role.

The HSE as a whole needs to axe about 10% of its 3,800 strong workforce by 2008 through natural wastage and voluntary redundancy.

The news emerged in the same week that two workers were killed at an opencast coal site in Scotland, which will push the rate of fatalities in construction and civil engineering beyond last year’s figure. There were 59 fatal injuries to construction workers in 2005/06 – a rate of 3 per 100,000.

The two workers, who had not been named when Building went to press, were killed by machinery at the Chalmerston and Pennyvenie opencast coal site in east Ayrshire on Monday.

Meanwhile, Murray Coleman, Bovis Lend Lease’s chief executive, this week stepped up the pressure on contractors to sign up to Building’s safer skyline campaign by offering the public the chance to of cranes on the company’s sites.

Building is calling for a public register of checks carried out on cranes to act as a deterrent against missing maintenance checks and to reassure the public. The campaign comes in the wake of fatal accidents in Liverpool and Battersea.

Coleman said: “We have consistently independently evaluated tower cranes on all of our sites. We liaise with neighbours and welcome any requests to look at safety documentation.”

n Construction industry leaders have set a series of objectives for the Strategic Forum’s Health and Safety Group. The group has agreed a long-term objective to ensure that occupational health has the same high level focus and profile as site safety.