Preliminary Health and Safety Executive figures indicate 25% drop in construction death rate

The industry could be on course to record the lowest number of fatalities in a year since records began in 1981.

Official data on the number of construction deaths between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2009 is due to be released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 24 June. But preliminary statistics suggest that 56 people, including employees, self-employed workers and members of the public, died during the period – 25% lower than the 75 killed in 2007/08.

If confirmed, these figures would be the lowest since records began. At the moment the lowest figure is from 2005/06, when 64 people were killed.

The drop coincides with a fall in the number of people employed in construction, but it is still likely to equate to a decrease in deaths per 100,000 workers. According to training body ConstructionSkills, the number of people in the industry has reduced by just 8% to 2.4 million in the last year.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said there was an “inevitable parallel between the number of construction projects and the number of fatalities”, but added that he thought the industry had improved its health and safety culture.

“There is a greater awareness of health and safety among leading contractors, and that has made a difference.”

Jim Higham, group head of safety at Willmott Dixon, agreed. “There is a huge effort going into the education of the lads on site to keep a greater watch on health and safety,” he said, adding that this, rather than the downturn, had made the difference.

“If the recession had bitten earlier, there would have been more deaths, as more people would have been inclined to cut corners on health and safety.”

The news comes in the week the HSE launched a strategy to cut death and injury at work, after a survey revealed a quarter of businesses felt pressure to cut spending on health and safety.