Prospect and other organisations are urging the government to rethink its 35 per cent budget cuts to the Health and Safety Executive in the light of this year's fatal injury statistics, which show a sharp increase in deaths compared to the previous year.
The HSE's official statistics for April 2010 to March 2011 show that the number of workers killed in Britain was 171, an increase of one sixth (16%) on last year's record of 147 fatalities.
There was a significant increase, too, in the rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers, up from 0.5 in 2009-10 to 0.6 in 2010-11. The figures also showed that:
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The responsibility for the increase in deaths this year must be placed at the door of negligent employers, but more needs to be done to ensure that all employers protect their workers from harm.
"The government's recent decision to reduce workplace inspections and budget cuts for both the HSE and local authorities make it far less likely that problems will be identified before something goes wrong."
Prospect represents more than 1,650 HSE inspectors and other specialists. Speaking on their behalf, negotiator Mike Macdonald said: "In a civilised society it is reasonable to expect people to return home unharmed after a day's work. The increase revealed by these figures is even more alarming given that economic output has remained stagnant over the past 12 months.
"We fear that as the economy recovers and the workforce grows the number of workplace deaths and serious accident rates will rise even further.
"Not only does HSE's work save lives and reduce the misery felt by friends and family following the death of a loved one, it saves industry and the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds in lost working days and medical bills. Therefore we have to question how appropriate it is for the government to make cuts of 35 per cent which will result in fewer frontline inspectors."
Macdonald said members were particularly concerned by the withdrawal of up to 11,000 "proactive inspections" normally undertaken by HSE but axed in a bid to meet budgetary restrictions.
"Agriculture is one of the key areas to see a withdrawal of proactive inspection despite the excessive number of fatal injuries. Enforcement and the prosecution of people who break health and safety law is important – but so is HSE's intervention to reduce the risks of hazardous situations in the first place."
The British Safety Council also raised serious concerns about the figures.
For more information about how the cuts are affecting heath and safety, see the Campaigns area of CutStop.