PITY THE POOR beleaguered builders in Fairfax County -- they are bemoaning the existence of a tighter safety inspection program these days. It seems the inspectors keep coming around to the construction sites and issuing citations -- unlike last year, when projects could go uninspected for months. "It's overkill," says the president of the Northern Virginia Builders Association. "It creates a burden for the builder."

If this is "overkill," what about the situation that led to changes in the inspection program? Last fall, a news report noted that "despite a toll of 14 worker deaths in the last two years, Northern Virginia's booming construction industry went virtually uninspected during peak building months . . . by the state agency responsible for enforcing safety laws." State officials came up with all sorts of lame excuses for this lax system, citing the retirement of one inspector, too much paper work and fines that are too low.

This didn't wash with the county supervisors, who turned to a cooperative venture with the federal government to train inspectors. The result is 190 county inspectors who have referred about 40 cases to federal officials for correction. Richard Lawson, deputy director of the county inspection service division, says the new system is working well and that "we are sensing a higher degree of compliance. . . ." A federal official says the inspectors have "made their presence felt and the contractors know it."

They may know it, but they're still complaining about it -- encouraged, no doubt, by petulant state officials who continue to insist that their program was perfectly good. The fact is, the county supervisors did not think so; they were talking about human lives -- and they were right to act decisively and swiftly to improve a defective inspection program.