An incoming Tory government may change the law to allow contractors to ban Health and Safety Executive inspectors from sites

Under the proposals aired at the Conservative party conference earlier this month, firms would be able to arrange their own inspections, which would be carried out internally but audited externally, and “refuse entry to official inspectors thereafter”. HSE inspectors would only be granted access in “emergency” situations.

John Penrose, the shadow business minister, said: “We’ll change whatever we need to change. We might be able to adapt current legislation or make it a statutory instrument, but we’re committed to doing this, and we will change whatever is required.”

Penrose admitted internal inspectors would not have the power to prosecute, but could act as whistleblowers to the HSE if a company was breaching health and safety law. However he insisted it was “too early to say” whether the plans would lead to a reduction in HSE staff.

We might be able to adapt current legislation or make it a statutory instrument

John Penrose

Kizzy Austin, a health and safety lawyer at Pinsent Masons, said legislation would be necessary if the proposals were accepted because the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 allows government inspectors to access any site. “Lots of changes would have to be made, including all the health and safety guidance and codes of practice,” she said.

The inquiry into construction deaths by Rita Donaghy this year looked at the idea of self-regulation, but concluded it would be a “retrograde” step that posed “unacceptable risks”.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary, of construction union Ucatt, said the plans were badly thought out and should be “consigned to the wastebasket”.