The head of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned of a possible 10-15% rise in fatal accidents in the construction industry this year.

Speaking at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health conference Geoffrey Podger, the HSE’s chief executive, said: “Our figures are provisional but we estimate a 10-15% rise in fatal accidents and a 2% rise in reported major injuries.”

He went on to praise the industry’s efforts to improve its health and safety performance, citing the reduction in fatal injuries to three per 100,000 workers and last year’s “best ever” figure of 59 deaths.

But this level may be impossible to sustain, he warned: “Continued vigilance is essential in this high risk industry. It will take a high level of commitment to maintain that performance, but we don’t see any sign of the commitment dropping.”

John Carpenter, a health and safety consultant for the Institution of Civil engineers, said the reasons behind the rise were unclear: “We don’t have enough data to make a judgment,” he said. “My guess is the organisational culture is at fault. If you don’t have a director who leads from the front, then you aren’t going to progress.”