Unions, safety campaigners and MPs have questioned the involvement of the Health and Safety Executive in a government inquiry into the body’s work.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has launched an investigation into the construction industry’s safety record and will examine the HSE’s record as part of it. However, campaigners such as union Ucatt have criticised the amount of preparation the HSE has already done for the inquiry, before the DWP has even announced the scope of its remit.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of Ucatt, said: “I fail to understand why the HSE seems hell bent on undermining this vital inquiry even before it has begun its work.”

Ucatt added that senior figures within the DWP had slapped HSE officials on the wrist for revealing details of the forthcoming inquiry.

The DWP has yet to confirm the exact details of the inquiry, but a source said: “We want to learn from previous incidents and establish trends to get to the root.”

The HSE said the proposals for a review of construction fatalities were submitted by Judith Hackitt, its chairwoman, to James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, in August, and were being given “significant consideration”.

In the year 2006/7, the death toll in construction was 79; this year it was 72.