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Construction figures expected to reveal rise in deaths

HSE fatality figures to be released in June are expected to show that construction deaths have risen throughout the recession.

HSE fatality figures to be released in June are expected to show that construction deaths have risen throughout the recession.

This news will raise alarm as although construction remains a high risk industry, the past five years has seen a decline in construction deaths as a result of ongoing HSE campaign and targeted inspections.

In response to the news, a HSE Spokesman said:

“It is too soon to say whether the in-year indications of a rise in fatalities in the construction sector can be confirmed… HSE will publish official fatality figures across all sectors in June, when they have been verified…It is important HSE [has] access to reliable data and for many good reasons the information initially reported to HSE can change in light of our inquiries.”

This news comes against a backdrop of a move to reduce proactive inspections by HSE in a bid to meet the Comprehensive Spending Review target of reducing their budget by 35% by 2014.

Following an announcement in February by Geoffrey Podger, HSE’s Chief Executive, that proactive inspections are to be reduced, a letter leaked to BBC's File on 4 programme sets out where the reductions will take effect.

The letter reveals plans to reduce HSE proactive inspections by one third and that inspections in two categories will effectively be withdrawn for reasons of cost effectiveness necessity despite acknowledging that a “significant risk” remains.

The letter states that the nuclear, offshore and chemical industries will not be affected by the proposed cuts.

The proposals have raised immediate concerns that the deterrent effect that unannounced inspections can have will be swept away.

Dr Courtney Davis of Sussex University, who has conducted research on the value of proactive inspections, commented:

"The most robust studies show that inspection plus enforcement are associated with a decline in injury rates of 22% for the following three years… The evidence relating to new, soft interventions is much weaker, and almost non-existent… It doesn't appear to be the case that these alternatives are effective in improving compliance with health and safety law or injury rates."

HSE spokesperson told the BBC:

“The emphasis should be on outcomes – the incidence of accidents and ill health rather than the number of particular types of inputs by the regulator.”