The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) is planning to toughen up its enforcement of workplace safety to stem the rise in workplace deaths.

The commission met last week to discuss how it could stop the increase, which saw 295 people die at UK workplaces last year – 35% more than in 1999.

The HSC is expected to give its inspectors new powers of enforcement. Inspectors already have the power to stop work if unsafe working practices are found, but this is seldom used. But now workplaces will be threatened with closure if they do not implement recommendations from the safety inspectors.

It is also expected inspectors will be encouraged to press for the prosecution of more companies that infringe workplace health and safety rules.

One idea promoted by safety minister Michael Meacher is that trade unions employ roving safety representatives. They would be able to shut down dangerous sites until safety was improved.

The construction industry accounts for more workplace deaths than any other sector. In February, John Prescott warned tough new measures would be included in the forthcoming Safety Bill if contractors did not try harder to improve site safety.