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Health and Safety chiefs force SAS to soften entry test after deaths of three soldiers on training march
- Gruelling entry tests for UK's elite Special Forces have been made easier
- Troops provided with extra water and food rations, and given time to rest
- Endurance marches will also be shorter - with marshals to help stragglers
- Follows report by Health and Safety Executive into deaths of three soldiers
- Servicemen collapsed during 20-mile march over Brecon Beacons last year
- Move has sparked fears that calibre of soldiers winning places will decline
- Officers claim lives will be put at risk and forces' reputation undermined
PUBLISHED: 18:21 EST, 22 February 2014 | UPDATED: 08:18 EST, 23 February 2014
Britain’s elite Special Forces have been ordered to soften their gruelling entry tests by the Government’s Health and Safety watchdog.
Endurance exercises for those hoping to win places in the SAS and SBS have been made easier following a damning report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into the deaths of three soldiers who collapsed during a 20-mile march over the Brecon Beacons last year.
The move has sparked fury among officers and troops in the tough fighting units, who fear the calibre of soldiers winning places will decline, lives will be put at risk and the regiments’ fearsome reputation will be undermined.
Test of endurance: The SAS has been ordered to soften their gruelling entry tests by the Government's Health and Safety watchdog. Above, soldiers take a breather on a 50-mile march over the Brecon Beacons last year
Victims: The changes follow a damning report by the Health and Safety Executive into the deaths of Corporal James Dunsby (right), 31, Trooper Edward Maher (left), 31, and Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, 24, last July
Until now potential recruits would have to go without food if rations ran low and find streams if they ran out of water – skills SAS officers say are essential to survival in combat. Candidates who had to be ‘rescued’ automatically failed.
But new rules, to meet HSE demands, include providing extra rations, giving troops time to rest on marches, making sure safe drinking water is always available and introducing marshals to help stragglers cross the finishing line.
Tragic: The three soldiers, including L/Cpl Roberts (pictured), collapsed during a 20-mile march over the South Wales mountain range
In the Brecon Beacons, recruits are expected to march up and down the 2,900ft Pen Y Fan. Instructors use two routes, the steep and inaccessible ‘Goat Route’ and the easier partly cobbled ‘Granny Route’.
Now, if candidates are struggling on the climb in adverse weather, they will use the ‘Granny Route’ to avoid any emergency arising.
And in the jungle section of the two-venue test, held in Brunei, if several recruits suffer heat exhaustion marches will be shortened or cancelled so they can recover and receive medical treatment.
SAS sources say the pass rate has more than doubled since the changes were made in January ahead of the winter selection course. The Ministry of Defence refused to confirm this.
The Mail on Sunday has been told that on the winter 2013 course, only 20 candidates out of 250 were successful. Of the 250 who started the winter 2014 course, 46 passed.
Last night, an SAS source said: ‘This caused a massive spike in the number of candidates completing the marches inside the time limits and thereby qualifying to serve in Special Forces units.
‘The SAS and SBS cannot afford to accept candidates whose fitness, mental aptitude or military skills are in any doubt. The inspectors have no idea of the risks to soldiers’ lives when they’re in battle should training be compromised.
‘So even though the SAS and SBS have been struggling to fully staff their squadrons in recent years, there is no benefit to having a larger pool of guys as a result of the last course. Question marks will remain over their capability.’
The HSE imposed the changes following the deaths of Corporal James Dunsby, 31, Trooper Edward Maher, 31, and Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, 24, after an endurance march last July.
Tough: In the Brecon Beacons (pictured), recruits are expected to march up and down the 2,900ft Pen Y Fan. Instructors use two routes, the steep and inaccessible 'Goat Route' and the partly cobbled 'Granny Route'
The soldiers set off at around 6am carrying heavy packs up and down Pen Y Fan. As the temperature peaked in the early afternoon at 30C (86F), they ran out of water.
L/Cpl Roberts was declared dead on the mountain while Trooper Maher died that evening in hospital. Cpl Dunsby died two weeks later from multiple organ failure. It was the biggest loss of life in the history of SAS selection.
Afterwards, HSE inspector Sarah Baldwin-Jones launched an inquiry. In October, she sent a Crown Improvement Notice, a document stating that the selection courses breached the Health and Safety at Work Act. The notice casts blame on Special Forces instructors.
Scene: SAS sources say the pass rate has more than doubled since the changes were made in January ahead of the winter course. The Ministry of Defence refused to confirm this. Above, the Brecon Beacons in Wales
The inspector added that as the emergency unfolded, with at least six recruits showing signs of severe heat sickness, these instructors ‘failed to review risk assessments’.
Special Forces chiefs were ordered by the HSE to present new risk control measures and to ensure that, in future, sufficient quantities of hot rations and safe drinking water would be available.
The HSE confirmed last night that regulators had accepted new risk assessments and safety measures presented by the military.
The Ministry of Defence said: ‘We have co-operated fully with the Health and Safety Executive inspectors and are implementing all the recommendations in the Crown Improvement Notice.’
A police inquiry into the deaths is continuing, with more than 100 instructors and soldiers being interviewed.