In the wake of the fatal crane collapse at Canary Wharf, Building has learned that HSE figures to be published in July will show that "more than 80" construction workers died on UK sites between March 1999 and April 2000. This is an increase on 1998/99, when 66 workers died.
The HSE's principal inspector, Martin Thurgood, refused to comment on the figures ahead of their official publication.
He said: "Every fatal accident is a fatal accident too many. The UK record is certainly the best in the European Union."
Construction unions said the rise in the number of fatalities also called into question the effectiveness of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations introduced in March 1995. These provided the industry with a new health and safety regime.
In 1994/95, the year the CDM rules were introduced, 81 construction workers died. Five years on, the figure is virtually unchanged.
UCATT general-secretary and HSE commissioner George Brumwell said his union is to organise a number of safety inspections on major London sites over the next few weeks. He added that UCATT was also considering calling national one-day strikes whenever a fatality occurred on a building site.
Bob Blackman, general secretary of the TGW union, said of the rise: "The figures reinforce the fact that we need a new safety regime. We're looking for a much tougher health and safety regime. However, the HSE is never going to have enough inspectors to do the job."
He added: "Unless we get on to sites with safety representatives, I can't see how there's going to be change. Whenever the unions come up with proposals to improve safety, we get obstructed by employers."
However, Thurgood said the HSE commits about 20% of its field resources to construction and that it was for government ministers to decide whether it is properly resourced.
Brian Law, chief executive of the Association of Planning Supervisors, which represents those who design out risk as part of the CDM rules, said there was continued resistance from clients to the appointment of planning supervisors. He also said designers are still not making proper risk assessments.
During the consultation process, the trade unions called for the role of safety representatives to be strengthened.
The TUC's health and safety policy officer, Tom Mellish, said: "We would like to see fully trained and supported safety representatives taken on board. We submitted proposals to the DETR and they were received warmly. But the response from clients and contractors through CONIAC has been negative."