The proportion of fatal accidents on repair and maintenance projects soared by a third between April and September last year compared with the whole of 2008

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show that over the six-month period, 72% of deaths in construction were in this sector, compared with 52% from April 2008 to March 2009.

Philip White, chief inspector of construction at the HSE, said: “We need to focus on refurbishment. There is evidently a lot of work in this sector at the moment, but the same goes for civil engineering and deaths in that sector have decreased.”

Refurbishment and maintenance has been the most dangerous sector since 1999. Between 1999 and 2008, it accounted for 49% of construction fatalities, and 52% in 2008/2009. This is despite it making up 43% of construction work that year.

White said: “The sector includes a lot of roofing and external work, which can result in more falls from height and precarious environments.” He added that inspectors had begun to notice an improvement, with notices now served on one in five sites in the sector, compared with one in every three last year.

the refurb sector can result in more falls from height and precarious environments

philip white, HSE

Hilda Palmer, facilitator of Families Against Corporate Killers, described the statistics as “staggering”, and blamed non-unionised sites and the pressure on firms to cut costs.

Other areas listed as inspection priorities include small sites. In the first six months of 2009/10, 76% of fatal accidents were on smaller sites. The HSE will also focus on fire risk, particularly for timber frame buildings.

There were 21 construction fatalities in the six months from 1 April 2009. In 2008/09 there were 53.