The formation of the bodies, both of which are to be chaired by Sir John Egan, is seen as the result of political rivalry between construction minister Nick Raynsford and environment minister Michael Meacher.
One Whitehall source said: "This was the best internal compromise in the DETR. Raynsford conceded that there would be two bodies but they would be ridden by the same jockey." The two ministers were split over which of them was to take charge of delivering the reduction in deaths and serious injuries laid down in February's government–industry safety summit.
Raynsford's group – billed as a "strategic forum" – will be a replacement for the Construction Industry Board. It will look at safety in the context of the Egan agenda. Meacher's will have the remit of finding ways to attain February safety targets.
Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said the move would cause fragmentation.
He said: "Although health and safety will be one of the main areas of the strategic forum, the fact that there is a separate safety taskforce doesn't make a great deal of sense. It would make sense if there is one body for all the issues."
Stephen Ratcliffe, chief executive of the Construction Confederation, agreed. He said: "We are somewhat bemused and concerned that there will be a second body. Health and safety should be on top of the agenda for a strategic forum."
Details on Meacher's body are sketchy, partly because Egan is ill, but it is likely to have strong union involvement. A DETR spokesperson said: "A lot of the detail will come down to what Sir John comes up with."
Raynsford's forum, which will include the Construction Confederation, the CIC, the Constructors Liaison Group and the Construction Products Association, will meet about three to four times a year. It will also have client bodies such as the Confederation of Construction Clients and the British Property Federation.
It is understood that Egan has agreed to chair it for a year. A review will then assess its future.
Sources claim that the bodies could be subject to change after next month's election.