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Workplace fatalities | 6 key takeaways from the HSE’s 2023/24 statistics

Written on 5 July 2024

New statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that workplaces in Great Britain are no safer than they were a decade ago, with another year-on-year increase in the number of work-related fatalities.

According to the regulator’s latest report, released on 3 July 2024, a total of 138 workers lost their lives as a result of work-related accidents between April 2023 and March 2024, an increase of two deaths from last year (136).

So what does the latest data tell us about the safety of UK workplaces in 2023/24? Here’s a summary of six key findings from the HSE’s report.

1. Fatalities remain broadly in line with pre-pandemic levels

The total number of work-related fatalities has fluctuated over the years with no clear cause. In the years prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of annual fatalities had been broadly flat. However, in 2019/20, there was a notable drop in fatalities to 113 – the lowest figure on record.

Since then, the number of work-related deaths per year has fluctuated but has ultimately rebounded back to pre-pandemic levels. Indeed, this year’s figure (138) is comparable to the average number of deaths per year between 2016/17 and 2018/19 (142), indicating that little to no progress has been made since this time. In fact, the total number of fatalities reported in 2023/24 is higher than it was a decade ago (136).

Year Number of fatal injuries
2013/14 136
2014/15 142
2015/16 147
2016/17 135
2017/18 141
2018/19 149
2019/20 113
2020/21 145
2021/22 123
2022/23 136

Nick Wilson, Director of Health & Safety Services at WorkNest, says: “The cyclic nature of work-related accidents continues and, regrettably, shows no signs of improvement. HSE analysis suggests that the emergence of COVID-19 as a national health issue over the first quarter of 2020 does not appear to be the main driver of changes seen in the 2019/20 data, though it is possible that it may have been a contributory factor. Regardless, it’s disappointing to see that figures return to pre-pandemic levels.

He adds: “While this year’s figure isn’t drastically different to the last, any increase in the number of people killed at work, no matter how small, is certainly disheartening to see – and the direction of travel is concerning.”

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2. Long-term, the rate of fatal injury to workers shows a downward trends

The HSE points out that when considering change over time, it is preferable to consider the rate of injury (deaths per 100,000 workers) as this takes into account the number of people in employment, which changes from year to year.

Looking at the data this way, the 138 fatalities in 2023/24 equates to a fatal injury rate of 0.42 deaths per 100,000 workers. Again, this is similar to pre-pandemic levels.

Over the long-term, however, the rate of fatal injury to workers shows a downward trend. Indeed, in 1981, there were 495 deaths, giving a fatal injury rate of 2.1.

Nick says: “There’s no doubt that workplaces are far safer than they were 50 years ago, but we should be looking forward and not in the rear view mirror. There is still much work to be done to bring these levels down.”

3. Three sectors account for two-thirds of all fatalities

Around two-thirds (65%) of fatal injuries in 2023/24 occurred in three industry sectors: construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing, and manufacturing.

  • The construction sector saw 51 deaths to workers in 2023/24 (an increase of four from the previous year), giving it a five-year average of 42 deaths per year. The average number of worker deaths in construction in the last two years is statistically significantly higher than the pre-pandemic period (2016/17 – 2018/19), and the sector’s fatal injury rate is also around five times as high as the average rate across all industries.
  • The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector saw 23 deaths to workers in 2023/24 (an increase of two from the previous year), giving it a five-year average of 24 deaths per year. It’s worth noting that while the total number of deaths in the sector is half that seen in construction, the fatal injury rate is much higher at 7.51 fatalities per 100,000 workers compared to 2.43. This is a staggering 21 times higher than the all-industry rate.
  • The manufacturing sector saw 16 deaths to workers in 2023/24 (an increase of one from the previous year), giving it a five-year average of 17 deaths per year. The sector’s fatal injury rate (0.64) is about 1.5 times as high as the average across all industries.

In addition, there were 11 deaths in transportation and storage, 9 in wholesale, retail, motor repair; accommodation and food, 12 in administrative and support services, and 4 in waste and recycling.

4. Falls from height remain the number one cause of work-related fatality

Unsurprisingly, falls from height continue to be the leading cause of death at work, accounting for 50 fatalities in 2023/24. This equates to 36% of all worker deaths over the year.

Nick says: “The data shows a 25% increase in falls from height from 2022/23, in which there were 40 such deaths. In addition to the very tragic loss of life, HSE data shows that falls from height resulted in 5,118 non-fatal injuries to workers in 2022/23, underscoring the importance of robust work at height risk assessments, the selection of appropriate equipment, and the competence of workers. These situations are all preventable.”

In addition to falls from height:

  • 25 people died as a result of being struck by a moving vehicle (18%).
  • 20 people died as a result of being struck by a moving object (14%).
  • 15 people died as a result of being trapped by something collapsing/overturning (11%).
  • 8 people died as a result of contact with moving machinery (6%).

Together, these five leading causes of injury accounted for 86% of all fatal injuries in 2023/24.

5. Men and older workers are most at risk

Following established trends, male workers accounted for the overwhelming majority (95%) of work-related fatal injuries in 2023/24, a similar proportion to previous years.

The risk of fatal injury also increases with age. 45 of the 138 people killed at work in 2023/24 (34%) were aged 60 and over, despite these workers making up just 11% of the workforce. In fact, the fatal injury rate for workers aged 60-64 is around twice as high as the average rate across all ages, and for workers aged 65 and over, it is four times as high.

Nick says: “Sadly, these statistics don’t come as a surprise. It’s no secret that sectors like manufacturing and construction are predominantly male-dominated, explaining the higher proportion of male fatalities, and the increased vulnerability of older workers is a known reality.”

“Still, the gender and age disparities in work-related fatalities underscore the importance of addressing the unique risks faced by different demographic groups. While we may not be able to alter the fact that more men are employed in hazardous industries, we can take significant steps to ensure their safety. We can also implement tailored safety measures to protect older workers so that the workplace is safe for all, regardless of age.”

6. Fatal injuries to members of the public have increased, but are declining overall

A total of 87 members of the public were killed as a result of a work-related accident in 2023/24, up from 73 in 2022/23.

The positive news, however, is that public fatalities have decreased compared to pre-pandemic levels. The average number of deaths in the last two years (80) is statistically significantly lower than the annual average recorded over the three-year period from 2016/17 to 2018/19 (102).

Nick says: “While deaths to members of the public have come down since the pandemic, a year-on-year increase of 14 (20%) fatalities isn’t insignificant. Members of the public face many of the same hazards as your workers; however, their lack of familiarity with the work environment and activities increases their vulnerability to risks. It’s therefore imperative for employers not to overlook the safety of visitors, customers, and other individuals present in work areas when conducting risk assessments. This responsibility is rooted in Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which holds employers accountable for the wellbeing of non-employees.”

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"A death in the workplace is every employer’s worst nightmare, and these statistics act as an annual reminder of the potentially severe consequences of failing to implement proper health and safety practices. The lack of progress – and at times regression – seen over the last decade is likely due to a combination of factors, including a culture of complacency and poor leadership.

WorkNest’s Mind the Gap report, published in late 2021, suggested that health and safety would remain a top priority for organisations post-pandemic. Sadly, this isn’t reflected in the statistics.

Employers must do more to ensure the safety of their employees."

Nick Wilson, Director of Health & Safety Services
WorkNest

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