LEGAL experts have raised concerns about a lack of justice over health and safety failures, as it emerged only 3% of complaints ever lead to a prosecution or enforcement notice in Scotland and one in three deaths at work is not scrutinised by a fatal accident inquiry.

Calls have been made for a shake-up of how health and safety accidents at work are investigated after it was revealed the number of cases recommended for prosecution has fallen by nearly 50% in two years.

New data produced by the major personal injury specialists, Thompsons Solicitors Scotland, has revealed that despite a fatal accident inquiry(FAI) for a death at work being mandatory by law, in 29% of cases no such investigation is carried out.

The firm says of the cases that do result in an FAI, they take an average of 30 months to set up. In one-third of instances, it took three to four years for an FAI to be held. None took under a year.

Thompsons say Scotland should follow the lead of English coroner's courts, which set up an inquest immediately following a death.

Official figures show the number of cases the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommended for prosecution in Scotland fell from 84 in 2008-09 to 43 in 2009-10 and 44 in 2010-11, when responsibility passed to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Of 1229 complaints made to the HSE in Scotland in 2009-10 just 2.9% resulted in a prosecution or enforcement action. In England and Wales the figure is 4.3% of complaints.

Around one in five of the 43 Scottish cases passed to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service after being recommended for prosecution by the HSE did not result in charges being pursued, according to a new report to Westminster. There was also a reduction in the percentage of reported major-injury incidents being investigated, down from 11% of cases in 2007-08 to 6% in 2009-10.

Thompsons' data shows that of its fatal workplace accident and disease cases, 24% resulted in criminal charges, 44% led to no charges while 24% of investigations were ongoing.

The firm has raised concerns about whether health and safety is suffering because of government cuts, and urges an overhaul of the FAI system, which it says "does not work".

Patrick McGuire, of Thompsons, said: "Breaching health and safety legislation is a crime but is not treated with the seriousness it deserves.

"For as long as the perception remains that this is not a 'proper crime' that devastates lives, the effectiveness of health and safety legislation will not be maximised."

Thompsons, in a memo distributed to Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee, called for an anonymous whistleblower hotline for health and safety breaches.

Mr McGuire added: "Disregarding people's safety at work or anywhere is a serious offence. It deserves the most serious enforcement measures possible."

Unlike in England, where the Health and Safety Executive is the prosecuting body, pursuing charges in Scotland has been the responsibility of a new division of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service since July 2009.

"From the perspective of proactive investigation and enforcement, the simple fact is the HSE have limited resources," Mr McGuire says. "With the economic pressures on central government and likely budget reductions, this situation is likely to only get worse."

An HSE spokesman said: "We always prioritise and will look to devote the resources available to us to investigate the more serious circumstances."