The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has now published its yearly report on workplace fatalities in Great Britain.
The report is based on provisional annual data for the period April 2018 to March 2019. It gives us a yearly figure in relation to the number of fatal work injuries for 2018/19, as well as the number of people known to have died from mesothelioma – an asbestos-related cancer – in 2017.
According to the data, 147 workers died as a result of workplace injury in the 12 months leading up to March 2019. While this represents an increase of six fatalities on the 141 workers killed in 2016/17, the overall picture is one in which:
There has been a long-term reduction in the number of fatalities since 1981, when the figure recorded was an alarming 495.
The number of fatalities has remained broadly the same in recent years, with the average annual number of workers killed between 2014/15-2018/19 standing at 142.
At this stage, the RIDDOR data is provisional and is subject to change by up to +/-3%. Last year, provisional data suggested that there were 144 deaths, but this figure was later revised to 141.
Fatalities by sector
In terms of sheer numbers, the sectors with the highest number of fatalities in 2018/19 were:
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing (32, with an annual average of 36 deaths per year between 2014/15 and 2018/19);
- Construction (30, with an annual average of 36 deaths per year between 2014/15 and 2018/19); and
- Manufacturing (26, with an annual average of 21 deaths per year between 2014/15 and 2018/19).
Another way to interpret the data is by looking at the fatal injury rate in terms of the number of fatalities per 100,000 workers. Adopting this approach, the sectors where the risk of fatal injury is greatest are:
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing (9.21 deaths per 1,000 workers);
- Waste and recycling (6.05 deaths per 1,000 workers); and
- Construction (1.31 deaths per 1,000 workers).
Three quarters of all fatalities that occurred in 2018/19 (and indeed over the last five years) can be broadly attributed to five main accident types. These are:
- Falling from height (40, with a five-year annual average of 36);
- Being struck by a moving vehicle (30, with a five-year annual average of 27);
- Being struck by a moving object (16, with a five-year annual average of 18);
- Becoming trapped by an object that has collapsed or overturned (11, with a five-year annual average of 14); and
- Contact with moving machinery (14, with a five-year annual average of 11).
Notably, the three most common causes in this list accounted for almost 60% of all fatal injuries in 2018/19, so employers should focus their attention on making sure robust control measures are in place for activities where these risks are present.
Other causes of death included drowning or asphyxiation (5), exposure to explosion (5), and contact with electricity or electrical discharge (4).
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is most commonly caused by asbestos fibres becoming lodged in the lining of the lungs. Unlike other occupational deaths, which are often estimated rather than calculated, mesothelioma is one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly.
The figures show that 2,523 people died from mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2017 – a number that has remained broadly similar for the past five years. Because asbestos-related mesothelioma takes a long time to develop, usually between 20 and 50 years, the HSE states that current statistics reflect the legacy of past working conditions and the historical widespread use of asbestos-containing products. As such, annual deaths are expected to remain broadly at current levels for the rest of the decade before beginning to reduce in number.
“We cannot become complacent”
Following the release, HSE chair Martin Temple commented: “Today’s release of workplace fatality statistics is a reminder that despite the UK’s world-leading position in health and safety, we cannot become complacent as we seek to fulfil our mission in preventing injury, ill health and death at work.”
He added: “These statistics also remind us that, in certain sectors of the economy, workplace death remain worryingly high. Agriculture, forestry and fishing accounts for a small fraction of the workforce of Great Britain, yet accounted for over 20% of worker fatalities in the last year. This is unacceptable and more must be done to prevent such fatalities taking place.”
“Whatever the sector, we should remember that any change in numbers provides little comfort to the family, friends and colleagues of the 147 whose lives were cut short this year while doing their job.”
Martin Temple, Chair of the HSE
MPs push for enhanced fall from height controls
Hot on the heels of these latest statistics, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), sponsored by the Access Industry Forum (AIF), has expressed concerns over the increase in the number of fall-from-height fatalities, which has risen from 35 in 2017/18 to 40 in 2018/19.
Speaking on behalf of the AIF, Peter Bennett OBE, Managing Director of PASMA, commented: “Whilst we welcome the UK continues to consistently have one of the lowest rates of fatal injury across the EU, the figures released today are still too high. There should be absolutely no question or doubt over workers’ ability to return home safely to their families every evening.”
In February, the APPG published a report entitled Staying Alive: Preventing Serious Injury and Fatality while Working at Height, in which it made a number of recommendations, including:
- The introduction of enhanced reporting;
- The appointment of an independent body;
- An equivalent system to Scotland’s Fatal Accident Inquiry process.
Alison Thewliss, Chair of the APPG and MP for Glasgow Central, stated that the report had been met by a positive response from the government and the HSE. However, she stressed that “time is of the essence when it comes to safety in the workplace, and we need to ensure these actions are taken forward as quickly as possible”.
An enhanced assessment of work-related ill-health and injuries, drawing on the HSE’s full range of data sources, will be provided as part of the annual Health and Safety Statistics release on 30 October 2019.
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