Health and Safety Executive inspections have revealed that nearly one in five construction sites fail safety checks.
HSE inspectors visited 3,237 sites and saw 4,080 contractors over the last year. Of these, 581 sites - or 18 per cent - were found to have practices that put workers at risk. A total of 870 enforcement notices were issued and in 603 cases work was immediately shut down.
The figure for unsafe sites last year was 22 per cent.
Philip White, chief inspector of construction, said: “It is encouraging that inspectors found a slight improvement in standards and small construction firms are taking safety seriously when carrying out refurbishment work.
“But this is just a snapshot, and the number of notices served for unsafe work at height is still unacceptable, particularly when the safety measures are well-known and straightforward to implement.
“Too many contractors continue to put their own or other people’s lives at risk and we will not hesitate to take action where standards are not met.”
Inspectors targeted sites where refurbishment or repair work was being carried out as part of an annual, month-long drive across the UK.
Falls from height remains one of the most common causes of deaths and major injury. It is also responsible for the largest proportion of enforcement notices at 49 per cent, a slight improvement on 2010 at 55 per cent.
Of the 50 fatalities in construction last year, 27 were in the refurbishment, repair and maintenance sector.