New figures  from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal the number of people killed at work between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010 fell to a record low, provisionally standing at 151.

“While the figures are undeniable proof that the health and safety framework in Britain is working, even one worker’s death is one too many,” British Safety Council head of policy and public affairs Neal Stone said.

While welcoming the further reduction, reflecting a general downwards trend for most of the past decade, the leading health and safety charity warned that the HSE figures needed to be viewed in closer detail. Rather than representing a marked improvement in workplace health and safety, the fall might be more of an indication that fewer people were in employment last year, Neal said.

“Many of the people, all of whom leave behind grieving family and friends, represented in the HSE’s workplace fatality figures died from injuries that would not have happened if correct safety procedures were followed and precautions taken,” Neal said.

“It’s also important to remember that the number of workplace fatalities, shocking though they are, are not the only or even the best measure of good safety in British workplaces. We must never forget the thousands of workers still living with and dying from the legacy of work-related diseases, such as mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos.”

The existing health and safety framework in the UK could be in line for an overhaul depending on the outcomes of Lord Young of Graffham’s review of health and safety, which was ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month.

The British Safety Council, which is conducting a survey of its members in order to inform its response to Lord Young’s invitation for feedback from key stakeholders, welcomed the review – especially if it is successful in stopping people hiding behind “health and safety” as an excuse for all sorts of decisions.

“If the review leads to improvements to what is already a solid health and safety framework in the UK, that can only be lauded,” Neal said. “But, if it leads to any erosion of the protections workers already have, the British Safety Council will be the first to shout.

“The HSE figures out today are a stark reminder that health and safety can be a matter of life or death. While some of the more ridiculous stories you hear attributed to it, like the perennial one about the local authority banning hanging baskets in public places, may raise a snigger, ensuring people are not injured at work is no laughing matter.

“We can only hope the outcomes of Lord Young’s review mean that when the HSE comes to publish its annual statistics next year, no workers have been killed through a negligent disregard to safety.”