'Rogue' worksite safety fears as inspections reduce

House under construction Image copyright PA
Image caption The union UCATT says unannounced safety inspections keeps building firms 'on their toes'

A drop in the number of spot checks on building sites in Wales could lead to workers being put at risk, claims a trade union.

Figures obtained by BBC Wales show that inspections by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the last financial year were down 35%.

The HSE says it is working "smarter" and targeting the worst offenders, with accidents in decline.

But one union in the industry fears some firms may now cut corners.

Figures obtained by BBC Radio Wales show that the HSE held 529 inspections of construction worksites in the last financial year.

That is down from 818 in the year before.

The fall in the number of inspections comes at a time when there are actually more building sites in Wales.

Official government statistics show new construction orders during last year were up by 4%.

The Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians, UCATT, said it is also concerned by a one-third cut to the HSE's overall budget over the life of this UK parliament.

According to the union, it raises fears that will be less regulation for construction companies.

Executive council member for Wales, Neil Andrews, said an improving economy will make the problem even worse.

'Right targets'

"It allows rogue employers to save money, and knowing that the inspections have been cut by 35% will give them a licence to continue and expand their operations outside of the rules," he said.

"The old approach where you didn't know the inspector was going to turn up on the job, I think that kept employers on their toes and made them more aware of their commitment to health and safety.

"Whereas the fear of them being caught now is massively reduced because of the lack of inspections."

And the Federation of Master Builders Cymru said a licensing system was needed.

The federation's Ifan Glyn said the current system of inspections was not working, and regulation like that used in the gas industry, was required.

"At the moment my grandmother can call herself a builder," he said.

"(She can) put her number in the Yellow Pages and be in someone's house the next day, making structural alterations to that house and in our opinion that isn't right," he told BBC Radio Wales.

"The more inspections you do the better, but even a more targeted approach is not enough. It just has to be taken further.

"One death is too many in our eyes.

"For the UK to be the only country in the western world not to regulate their builders properly - it's just an anomaly that has to change."

But the HSE director for Wales, Samantha Peace, said the time of blanket inspections was over.

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Media captionIfan Glyn says under the current system even his grandmother could start up as a builder

She said: "We need to make sure we work as smartly as we can and I think from the perspective of inspection, our emphasis is not just on how many but really making sure that the ones that we go to are the right targets."

She added that unannounced inspections were still "part of the bigger package of work" the HSE undertakes to improve standards in the construction industry.

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