THE number of work-related fatalities increased by nine to 144 in the past year, new figures show.

The increase, revealed in the week of the 30ths anniversary of the Piper Alpha North Sea disaster, has angered union leaders who say it is “deeply troubling.”

Two out of five fatal injuries in 2017/18 were to workers aged 60 or over, even though this age group made up only around 10 per cent of the workforce.

There were also 100 members of the public fatally injured in incidents connected to work in 2017/18 with just over half of these on railways.

The Health and Safety Executive said despite the increase there has been a long-term fall since 1981 and the number of fatalities has stayed broadly level in recent years.

HSE Chairman Martin Temple said: “Despite the fact that Britain’s health and safety record is the envy of much of the world, the increase in the number of workers fatally injured is clearly a source of concern.

“The figures serve as a reminder of why health and safety is so important and that we must not become complacent as we continue on our mission to prevent all forms of injury, death and ill health at work.”

The three most common causes of fatal injuries continued to be falling from height, or being struck by a moving vehicle or a moving object. Mesothelioma, contracted through past exposure to asbestos, killed 2,595 in Britain in 2016.

The current figures are largely a consequence of occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before 1980.

Annual deaths are expected to remain broadly at current levels for the rest of the decade before beginning to decline, said the HSE.

Craig Foyle, president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said: “Nobody should have their life cut short by work so we must strive to ensure that working people are protected and can return home to their families safe and well. This must be a business priority, there are no excuses for that not being the case.

“Last year, nearly three people were killed at work every week and these deaths are entirely preventable. That is unacceptable.”

The Unite union’s national health and safety adviser, Rob Miguel, said: “These latest statistics mask hundreds of individual tragedies where someone’s loved one didn’t come home one day.

“It is deeply troubling that the number of fatalities increased last year, with a substantial increase in construction deaths with 38 fatalities, and a further increase in agricultural deaths with 29 fatal injuries.

“These tragic deaths are just the tip of the iceberg, with fatalities related to occupational health such as cancers running into the thousands each year.

“To reduce fatal accidents ... it is vital that ongoing spending cuts in the Health and Safety Executive are halted and reversed and that there is an increase in life-saving proactive inspections and legal action if employers flout safety laws.”