Ministers are being urged to inject cash into the government body responsible for workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic, as figures show funding has been slashed dramatically over the last decade.

Coinciding with International Workers’ Memorial Day, Labour said that when the lockdown is relaxed, employees across the country deserve to know that offices and places of work are safe when they reopen.

Using figures from the House of Commons Library, the party said funding for the Health and Safety Executive had decreased significantly – from £239m in 2009-10 to £135m in 2017-18.

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Total staffing figures at the government agency has also fallen dramatically, from 3,702 to 2,501 while the number of inspectors dropped from 1,495 to 978 in the same period.

Andy McDonald, the shadow employment rights minister, said: “A decade of cuts has undermined protection for people at work, increasing the risk to their health, safety and welfare.

“The Health and Safety Executive has been so stripped of staff and resources by years of austerity that fewer and fewer prosecutions are ever brought, leaving workers at risk in unsafe conditions.”

He added: “The coronavirus has highlighted the extent to which we rely on so many workers who have been undervalued by successive Conservative governments. As we remember those who died, now is the time to commit to fight for the living.

“When those whose workplaces have been closed begin to return to work, they deserve to know that they are doing so safely. There is an urgent need for the government to provide proper resources to save the lives of workers during the crisis and restore long-term funding so that all workplaces can be made safe.”

The party also highlighted that there had been a fall in the number of prosecutions, pointing to reports the Health and Safety Executive helped secure 361 convictions in 2018-19 – a drop of 46 per cent from 2015-16.

Sarah Albon, the chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive, added in a blogpost published on International Workers’ Day: “It’s significance for us, as the national workplace health and safety regulator, really can’t be overstated.

“The opportunity to take a minute (even virtually), to reflect and to remember those who’ve died at or because of work is so valuable and a clear reminder of why the Health and Safety Executive exists.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions – responsible for funding the body – said: “We spend around £130 million a year supporting the Health and Safety Executive to safeguard workplaces with integrity, professionalism and rigour – making Great Britain one of the safest places to work in the world.

“HSE is playing a crucial role in the government’s response to Covid-19 and we will continue to work closely to ensure it has the resources it needs moving forward.”

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