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HSE statistics | Some progress but fatal injury rate remains ‘broadly flat’

Written by Nick Wilson on 15 July 2022

Newly released HSE statistics have revealed a year-on-year reduction in the number of people killed at work. However, overall progress remains slow.

According to the regulator’s new figures, there were a total of 123 work-related fatalities between April 2021 and March 2022, compared to 145 the previous year.

While this appears positive at face value, the fatal injury rate – the number of deaths per 100,000 workers – has been broadly flat since 2016/17, at 0.38 per 100,000 workers in 2021/22 versus an average of 0.41 over the past five years.

Although this is lower than last year’s rate (0.45 per 100,000 workers), the difference is not statistically significant. In other words, change is minimal.

In fact, headline statistics show that this year’s fatal injury rate is in line with pre-pandemic levels, suggesting we haven’t made any great strides in workplace safety in that time:

2016/17 – 0.42 (137 fatalities)
2017/18 – 0.44 (144 fatalities)
2018/19 – 0.46 (147 fatalities)
2019/20 – 0.34 (111 fatalities)
2020/21 – 0.45 (142 fatalities)
2021/22 – 0.38 (123 fatalities)

What’s more, the actual picture could be worse, as the fatal injury rate relies on an estimate of the number of people working.

The HSE notes that the pandemic ‘introduced challenges to measuring employment, particularly around workers on furlough’ and, as a result, it may have over-estimated the number of people at work in 2020/21 and 2021/22. As such, the real fatal injury rate may be much higher.

Some sectors are becoming safer – but not all

Having performed poorly over the last five years – with a fatal injury rate 11 times higher than the industry average – the waste and recycling sector reported just a single fatality in 2021/2022. In fact, the sector’s fatal injury rate has decreased considerably from an average of 4.58 over the past five years to 0.78 last year, indicating progress is being made.

The construction sector, as well as agriculture, forestry and fishing, also recorded fewer fatalities in 2021/2022 compared to last year (down from 40 to 30, and 34 to 22 respectively). Still, both sectors remain the most dangerous, both in terms of the sheer number of deaths and the fatal injury rate.

But while some sectors are becoming safer, others recorded more fatalities than usual. In particular, the manufacturing sector saw 22 deaths in 2021/22, up from 19 the previous year, and the transport and storage sector saw an increase of five deaths, from 11 to 16.

Fundamentally though, the same seven sectors continue to top the list of industries which have significantly higher rates of fatal injury: construction; agriculture, forestry and fishing; manufacturing; transport and storage; wholesale, retail, motor repair, accommodation and food; administrative and support services; and waste and recycling.

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Accident type: the big 5 remain the same

The five main causes of fatal injury have remained the same for many years, and this year is no different. ‘Falls from height’ continue to be the leading cause, responsible for 29 worker deaths in 2021/22, representing a slight decrease from the previous year (35).

‘Being struck by a moving vehicle’ (23) and ‘being struck by a moving object’ (18) remain the second and third most common causes of work-related fatality, and both have seen a marginal decrease this year (from 25 and 19 respectively).

Meanwhile, ‘contact with moving machinery’ has overtaken ‘being trapped by an overturning/collapsing structure’ for fourth. Last year, both resulted in 14 deaths; this year, while the number of workers who died due to becoming trapped remained static, 15 workers died due to contact with moving machinery, suggesting that this is an area which requires particular attention from employers.

Differences by demographic

In terms of regional split, the North East recorded the fewest fatalities (2) and the South West saw the highest number of deaths (18). In fact, there were more work-related fatalities in the South West than in the whole of Scotland combined (15).

Altogether, the vast majority of deaths (101) occurred in England, with 6 in Wales.

Broken down by age, the new figures again show that those aged 65+ are most at risk. These individuals accounted for 24% of all fatal injuries despite making up just 11% of the workforce, and have a fatal injury rate of 1.63 – four times as high as the average rate across all age groups (0.41).

Otherwise, with the exception of 20-24 year olds, risk (in terms of fatal injury rate) increases with age.

Reflecting findings from previous years, men are also at significantly greater risk of being killed at work than women, accounting for 94% of all worker fatalities.

Fewer members of the public killed

In addition to worker deaths, the report also reveals that a total of 80 members of the public (excluding patients and service users in health and social care premises) were killed as a result of a work-related accident in 2021/22.

This is higher than last year’s figure (63), which was notably low, likely as a result of pandemic restrictions. However, the HSE points out that it is statistically significantly below the average number of deaths recorded in the five years prior to the pandemic (106).

Final thoughts

Behind these numbers are real human beings, and employers must not lose sight of the fact that safety is the top priority. It is difficult to take any comfort from the slight reduction when 123 people lost their life at work, but the figures indicate that positive progress is being made in some areas, particularly the waste and recycling sector.

The changes seen within the waste and recycling sector is a perfect example of how the regulator and employers have collaborated over the years to implement tighter safety controls, and it remains to be seen how effective such collaborative arrangements will be across other high-risk sectors in the future.  

5 top takeaways and tips

Based on the findings on this latest fatal injuries report, here are five recommended areas of focus for employers.

1

Focus on reducing falls from height by ensuring that work-at-height activities are properly planned, appropriate equipment is used, and operatives are properly trained.

2

Guard machinery, ensuring that access to dangerous moving parts is prevented and emergency stop devices are accessible.

3

Separate vehicles from people by introducing physical barriers, floor markings and signage, and mandatory high visibility PPE.

4

Watch out for your older workers. The HSE advises that a separate risk assessment isn’t required, but you should think about the activities older workers do as part of your overall risk assessment and consider whether any changes are needed. 

5

Don’t forget members of the public who are exposed to the same hazards as your workers yet are not as familiar with the work environment and activities.

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