SAFETY inspections on construction sites in Scotland have plummeted by over 50%, prompting concerns employees are at risk from serious injury.

UK government cuts to the health and safety budget have been followed by a huge drop in unannounced visits to workplaces across the country. Health and Safety is a power reserved to Westminster.

Harry Frew, Regional Secretary for UCATT Scotland, described the figures as “shocking” and said employers would now be tempted to “cut corners”.

Construction is a key part of the economy and is responsible for a range of projects across the public and private sectors.

Tens of thousands of jobs are linked to the sector and output was 18.5% higher in the second quarter of 2015 than in the previous year.

However, the Tory Government, opposed to what Ministers regard as an out-of-control health and safety culture, has reduced the budget for the Health and Safety Executive.

New figures – comparing 2012/13 with 2014/15 - reveal the impact of the cuts on the HSE safety regime north of the border.

In this first of those years, 1248 proactive inspections were carried out by the Executive, but this number has now fallen to 552 - a 55.7% reduction.

The number of inspections that resulted in enforcement action against employers was 156, while the latest figures show the number has plummeted to 108.

In 2012/13, HSE issued 186 notices as a result of unannounced inspections, whereas in 2014/15 the figure stood at 140.

Finally, while 150 prohibition notices – flagging up activity that could result in a risk of serious injury - were issued in the earlier period, this number is now only 100.

An industry source said he feared the figures meant the quango was becoming more akin to an advisory body than an enforcement watchdog.

Professor Andrew Watterson, who is part of the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at Stirling University, said: “Westminster has savagely cut the budgets of the enforcement agency, the HSE, over many years.

“For employees in the construction industry, even the person in the street knows they face major work safety as well occupational-ill health dangers. It is therefore deeply disappointing to see the numbers of pro-active inspections of construction sites by HSE in Scotland cut so dramatically between 2011 and 2015.”

He added: “HSE has just launched a new and exceptionally weak GB strategy on health and safety based on a London bubble. Construction workers may well be amazed that HSE is so complacent about inspections and enforcement and seems to rely more and more on some alternative bland and neutered stakeholder approach. HSE increasingly looks and sounds like a toothless tiger – a lot of noise and increasingly little action”.

Frew said: “These findings are shocking. It is only the prospect of an HSE inspector knocking on the door which means that many construction employers comply with safety laws. If that deterrent doesn’t exist then employers are going to be increasingly tempted to cut corners and risk workers’ lives.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “Having worked as a tradesman in the construction industry I know from first-hand experience of the dangers workers can face on building sites. The reduction in unannounced inspections is deeply concerning. We cannot allow a situation to develop where we return to the bad old days where workers were being killed and injured as employers took shortcuts in health safety in an attempt to boost profits.”

A spokesperson for the HSE said: “Construction is a sector HSE treats as a priority. HSE’s work with the industry follows a national plan, and we have teams of construction specialists across Great Britain.

“Inspection and enforcement, while important, are part of a much wider mix of approaches for improving health and safety standards in construction. Focusing solely on inspection numbers therefore gives an inaccurate picture and does not reflect all the work being carried out by others. In addition to inspection, HSE investigates accidents, cases of ill health, and concerns about unsafe construction activities.”