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GB workplace death rate still on plateau

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) newly-published statistics on fatal injuries in UK workplaces reveal that 137 people were killed in the 12 months to the end of March.


This corresponds to a rate of 0.43 deaths per 100,000 workers and is broadly level with the average five-year (2012-13 to 2016-17) rate of 0.46 per 100,000 workers, or 142 deaths.

The figures indicate that the long-term downward trend of workplace deaths, which have halved over the last 20 years, is levelling off and has been since the beginning of the decade. 

The statistics cover the 12 months from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 and, although they represent a reduction of ten fatalities from 2015-16, the HSE said they are provisional and could therefore change before being finalised next July. 

Thirty construction workers sustained fatal injuries last year, the lowest number on record for the sector despite accounting for the largest share. This corresponds to a fatal injury rate of 1.37 per 100,000 workers, lower than the five-year average of 1.82. 

The HSE noted however that the number of fatal injuries in the construction sector has fluctuated in recent years. Some 47 people were killed in 2015-16 compared with the previous year’s total of 35 and the five-year annual average of 39.  

Based on the five-year annual average rates, the agriculture and waste and recycling sectors came out worst, with a rate of injury 18 and 15 times higher than the average across all industries respectively. Last year there were 7.61 deaths per 100,000 workers in agriculture, and 12.69 in waste and recycling. 

Twenty-seven agricultural workers were fatally injured in 2016-17.  

The 14 waste and recycling workers that died during the same period is almost double the five-year annual average of eight and compares with six deaths recorded in the previous year. This rise can be largely attributed to the incident at the Hawkeswood Metal Recycling plant in Birmingham in July 2016 when a wall collapse killed five employees.

Last year, 31 workers were killed by moving vehicles, falls from height attributed for 25 deaths, 20 employees were fatally struck by a moving object, and a further ten died after they were trapped by equipment that either collapsed or overturned. Electrocution accounted for eight deaths, as did contact with moving machinery. 

Older workers (aged 60+) accounted for around a quarter of all workplace deaths in 2016-17, despite the fact this demographic made up only around 10% of the workforce.

Shelley Frost, executive director of policy at IOSH, said: “The fact that fewer people are being harmed by work activities shows that employers are recognising the importance of safety and health. But 137 people were still killed in work-related accidents last year. Work-related fatalities are entirely preventable so we must strive to reduce this number further.

“When we gather with practitioners and policymakers in Singapore for the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in September this year, one of the themes will be ‘Vision Zero’, which aspires to eradicate workplace fatalities.”

As well as the 137 workplace deaths in 2016-17, 92 members of the public also were killed in accidents connected to work. Almost half of those occurred on railways. 

The latest statistics also show that in 2015 2,542 workers in the UK died from mesothelioma – a cancer often caused by exposure to asbestos at work and one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly. Of the deaths, 407 were among women and 2,135 were among men. 

The UK currently has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world, according to IOSH. Frost said: “We are concerned about the high number of mesothelioma deaths relating to asbestos exposure, which is more than 15 times the number of deaths caused by workplace accidents. It is likely this figure will decline from the start of the next decade but the fact is that deaths are increasing worldwide.

“Through our No Time to Lose occupational cancer campaign, IOSH is determined to see cases of mesothelioma and other cancers relating to exposure to carcinogens at work decline globally.” 

The number is slightly higher than that recorded in the previous year, driven mainly by deaths among those aged 75 and over. The HSE said the latest projections suggest there will continue to be around 2,500 deaths a year for the rest of the decade before annual numbers begin to decline. Current figures relating to asbestos-related cancer reflect widespread exposures before 1980.  

Chair of the HSE, Martin Temple, said: “Every fatality is a tragic event that should not happen. While we are encouraged by this improvement on the previous year, we continue unwaveringly on our mission to prevent injury, death and ill health by protecting people and reducing risks.”


Keeley Downey was the former assistant editor of IOSH Magazine. Previously she was editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine


  • It is interesting to see the

    Permalink Submitted by Stephen Williams on 7 July 2017 - 02:03 pm

    It is interesting to see the reduction in work related deaths over the past 30 - 40 years, I do wonder how much this is due to the reduction in dangerous activities such as coal mining, shipbuilding etc, plus the automation of industries such as car factories, food production etc. But that is not to decry from the tremendous work undertaken by the HSE and H&S professionals which has undoubtedly made workplaces safer and less hazardous to health across the country and abroad.

  • Err, is 137 a typo? Adding

    Permalink Submitted by Helen on 27 March 2018 - 12:51 pm

    Err, is 137 a typo? Adding all those up, I make it 173....

  • Hi Helen, The 137 total is

    Permalink Submitted by Louis_Wustemann on 3 April 2018 - 09:54 am

    Hi Helen, The 137 total is definitely right. The breakdown figures we give won't add up to that total because they are from different subvivisions: sector, hazard and so on. The HSE has the original figures here


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