The increase in accidents is mainly due to companies preferring to pay fines rather than invest in safety measures, said Phan Dang Tho, vice director of the inspections department at Vietnam's Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.

"The most significant factor is inadequate punishment," Tho said. "The compensation for each fatal case is just equal to a few dozen months' income for an employee, so they are not afraid."

Figures released Monday by the ministry showed there were 6,250 occupational accidents in 2009 resulting in 550 deaths, representing increases from 2008 of 7 percent and 6%, respectively.

Occupational safety has been in the news in Vietnam since a sixth worker was killed last week on the Keangnam Tower construction project in western Hanoi. The worker was killed by falling debris after a formwork, a mould used for pouring concrete structures, collapsed 14 stories above him.

Workers have also died in scaffolding collapses and other accidents. Hanoi city authorities on Wednesday launched an investigation into the latest accident at the tower, slated to be Vietnam's highest at 336 metres.

The real number of workplace accidents in Vietnam is assumed to be far higher than statistics show because most are never reported.

The ministry's deputy minister told a press conference Wednesday that the inspections system is failing to improve workplace standards, the newspaper Thanh Nien reported.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - March 6, 2010