THE HEALTH and Safety Executive came under fire in the House of Commons on Tuesday for investigating only 14 per cent of serious construction injuries.
The figures were produced during a sub-committee meeting of the environment, transport and regional affairs committee inquiry into how the HSE operates.
Statistics from the Centre for Corporate Accountability show only 1,184 serious construction injuries out of 8,724 were investigated by the HSE between 1996 and 1998.
Centre director David Bergman said: 'Thousands of company directors are escaping investigation and prosecution for crimes involving serious injury and death.
'Companies are also escaping criminal sanctions that would deter them from endangering the lives of workers and the public in the future.'
Evidence compiled by the centre showed huge differences between investigations in different industrial sectors.
Mr Bergman said: 'Half as many injuries to construction workers were investigated than injuries to farm workers.'
The committee was also told that the average fine against firms convicted for deaths at work was less than £20,000.
Officials from the HSE are due to appear before the committee later this month.
Written evidence already submitted by the executive states: 'There is some public expectation that we should investigate more accidents, because those which are not investigated may result in potential offenders escaping punishment. We plan to increase the number of investigations from 1999- 2000 to 2001-2002 by about 3 per cent.
'We continue to be concerned that the level of penalties for breaches of health and safety at work law is too low and we intend to continue working with ministers and other authorities to press this view.'
The Construction Confederation is also due to give evidence to the committee.
A spokesman said: 'We are aware that the HSE is under-resourced and is therefore not enforcing and providing the advice of which it is capable.
'The lack of construction inspectors in the field does mean that many smaller organisations do not come across HSE inspectors in the course of their activities.'