Tories progress plan for private safety inspections
A Conservative government would allow “low risk” construction companies to arrange their own independent safety audits, providing immunity from Health and Safety Executive inspections.
“If a Conservative government is elected, then we will take these plans forward,” shadow business minister John Penrose told Construction News. He said that the Tories, who have been consulting a number of business sectors on the plans since they were first floated last year, have received an “overwhelmingly positive” response.
Under the proposals, the HSE would define whether companies were “low risk”. Asked whether companies with recent fatalities would be eligible to use the new system, Penrose said: “That is not for politicians to decide.”
The plans are loosely based on the system used for financial reporting, with a Companies House-style register where companies' audit papers would be posted publicly.
Penrose claimed the system would allow contractors “to be masters of their own destiny”. But HSE inspectors would retain powers to inspect all sites in “emergencies”. “It is very important that inspectors can use the equivalent of a search warrant to enter a site,” he told the paper.
The plan was welcomed by the UK Contractors Group, which said major firms with stringent safety procedures should be spared the rigour of random inspections by the safety regulator.
However, unions have been highly critical of the proposals and Ucatt claimed last year that the changes would be “disastrous” for the construction sector.
The Tories have met various industries - including construction, food safety and environmental health - in recent months to discuss their proposal and have promised to consult further on the issue if elected.
Penrose said he was particularly keen to persuade unions of the benefits of the proposed system.
“I want to make sure I have a chance to speak with the people who were most critical, to reassure them that we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it would improve standards.
“Under this plan, the inspectors who are out there will be able to focus on the most risky companies, and I hope that will be a pretty powerful argument,” he said.
Some legislative changes may be needed before the system can be introduced, and Penrose told Construction News that the plans “will have to get in the queue”.