Fatal industrial accidents in Hong Kong have increased by nearly 40 per cent in the first three-quarters of the year. But the Permanent Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, insisted yesterday that job safety had improved. In the first half of the year, the number of occupational injuries dropped 14.5 per cent from the same period last year. The accident rate per 1,000 workers dropped by 11.7 per cent, from 18.7 to 16.5. But Mr Cheung said the government was concerned about the rise in the number of fatal cases. Provisional figures indicate that the number of fatal cases in the first three quarters increased by 38 per cent, from 21 to 29 cases, compared with the same period last year. Of these, 25 occurred in the construction industry, an increase of 25 per cent compared with 20 cases in the same period last year. To make the construction industry safer, the Labour Department has strengthened law enforcement at construction sites. It inspected 4,230 sites in July and August, issuing 17 suspension notices and 183 improvement notices. It also initiated prosecutions involving 235 offences. The department also has submitted to the Legislative Council a proposal to amend the Construction Sites (Safety) Regulations to require that, apart from principal contractors, appointed sub-contractors be held responsible for breaches of law in the projects. It was expected that the regulations would be approved by the Legislative Council in the coming weeks, Mr Cheung said. He said illegal workers would lead to serious law and order problems and affect local employment. Mr Cheung said his department therefore had strengthened co-operation with other law-enforcement departments to conduct joint operations and combat illegal employment. People who employ illegal workers can be fined up to $350,000 and jailed for three years. People in charge of construction sites are also liable for the penalties.