The Health and Safety Executive has questioned a Ucatt report that claims the number of firms convicted over the deaths of construction workers has fallen dramatically.

The study says the percentage of deaths that resulted in a conviction fell from 42% in 1998/9 to 11% in 2003/4.

It also says 105 (21%) of the 504 construction deaths in the period from April 1998 to March 2004 resulted in a conviction.

Geoffrey Podger, the HSE’s chief executive, questioned the figures. He said: “It seems that some of the statistics are inaccurate, for example, in 2002/03 the report says that there were 12 convictions. We are aware of about 30 such convictions.”

He also denied having targets for prosecutions, saying every case was considered on its merits.

Ucatt claims that a recent HSE internal audit estimated that prosecutions ought to occur three times more often than they do.

Alan Ritchie, the union general secretary, said: “The failure of the HSE to prosecute companies who kill their workers is profoundly shocking.”