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GB workplace fatality rate continues to plateau, says HSE

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) newly published statistics on workplace fatalities reveal that 144 people were killed at work in the 12 months to the end of March.

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This corresponds to a rate of 0.45 deaths per 100,000 workers and reflects the average five-year (2013-14 to 2017-18) rate of 0.45 per 100,000 workers, or 141 deaths. Statisticians focus on the rate of accidents rather than the absolute total because it is not distorted by variations in numbers employed in the economy year to year.
 
The figures indicate that the long-term downward trend of workplace deaths from 1981 when the fatal injury rate was 2.1 per 100,000 workers (495 deaths) to 2013-14 when it was 0.5 per 100,000 workers has continued to level off. The fatal injury rate over the past five years has remained broadly level at 0.5 per 100,000 workers. There were 142 deaths in 2014-15; 147 in 2015-16; and 135 in 2016-17.
 
The latest statistics cover the 12 months to 31 March 2018 and, although they show an increase of nine fatalities from 2016-17, the HSE said they are provisional and could change before being finalised next July. It added that the slight spike could be explained by natural variation in the figures.
 
Thirty-eight construction workers sustained fatal injuries last year, an increase in eight deaths from 2016-17.
 
This corresponds to a fatal injury rate of 1.64 per 100,000 workers, which, although it is around four times as high as the average rate for all industries, is considerably less than the rate in agriculture (8.44 per 100,000 workers) and waste and recycling (10.26 per 100,000 workers) even though it accounts for a greater number of cases than these two sectors (29 in agriculture) and (12 in waste and recycling). Construction’s latest fatal injury rate is lower than the five-year average of 1.77.
 
The statistics reveal that the total number of fatal injuries in the construction sector has fluctuated in recent years. Although 30 workers died in 2016-17, this was an improvement on the 47 killed in 2015-16 and the latest fatal injury rate is slightly lower than the five-year annual average of 39 deaths.
 
Fifteen manufacturing workers sustained fatal injuries last year, a rate of 0.52 per 100,000 workers. This is lower than 2016-17 when the fatal injury rate was 0.63 per 100,000 workers and below the five-year annual average of 0.65.
 
Based on the five-year annual average rates, the agriculture and waste and recycling sectors came out worst, which was also the case in 2016-17. Agriculture has the highest rate of fatal injury, 18 times higher than the average across all industries. The waste and recycling sector is 16 times as high, despite being a relatively small sector for employment. The manufacturing sector and the transportation and storage sector have an annual rate of fatal injury around 1.5 to 2 times the average rate across all industries, respectively.
 
Around three-quarters of fatal injuries in both 2017-18 and the combined five-year period were due to five different accident kinds.
 
Thirty-five deaths were attributed to falls from a height, an increase in eight from 2016-17. However, this is slightly less than the five-year annual average of 37.
 
Twenty-six workers were killed by moving vehicles, four less than the previous year but equal with the five-year annual average. Twenty-three employees were fatally struck by a moving object. The statistics for this accident type have fluctuated between 15 and 23 in each of the past five years and with an average of 19 over the five-year period.
 
A further 16 died after they were trapped by equipment that either collapsed or overturned while 13 died from contact with moving machinery.
 
The statistics underline how the proportion of fatal injuries to older workers (aged 60+) has been steadily increasing in recent years with a notably large spike in the most recent year, from around a quarter of all workplace deaths in 2016-17 to just under 40%. 
 
The latest figures show that the rate of fatal injuries to workers aged 65 and over is 2.10 per 100,000 workers which is around five times greater than the all ages rate (0.45 per 100,000 workers). For workers aged 60-64, the fatal injury rate of 0.97 is more than double the all-ages rate. As workers aged 60 and over make up only around 10% of the workforce, the figures suggest that the ageing workforce is a particularly at-risk group.
 
Another notable finding is that around a third of fatal injuries in both 2017/18 and the five-year period were to self-employed workers. The fatal injury rate for the self-employed (0.84 per 100,000 workers) is more than double that for employees (0.38 per 100,000 workers) and most deaths are in the agriculture sector, which accounts for 44% of fatalities and construction (30% of fatalities).
 
Craig Foyle, president of IOSH, said: “An increase in the number of people killed in workplace accidents serves as a stark reminder of the need for a continued focus on worker protection.
 
“Last year, nearly three people were killed at work every week and these deaths are entirely preventable. That is unacceptable. And let’s not forget those who are seriously injured at work as well. When you take into account the emotional and financial implications on families, the impact of workplace accidents is huge.”
 
The HSE will be publishing its annual health and safety statistics on 31 October, which will include a full assessment of work-related ill-health and injuries.
 
As well as the 144 workplace deaths, 100 members of the public were also killed in accidents connected to work, with just over half occurring on railways. A further 16 took place in the health and social work sector.
 
The HSE also released the latest available figures on deaths from asbestos-related cancer, which showed that in 2016, 2,595 people died from mesothelioma, which is one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly. Of the deaths, 398 were among women and 2,197 were among men. The total number of mesothelioma deaths compared with 2,542 in 2015, 2,515 in 2014 and 2,556 in 2013. The HSE said that the latest projections suggest there will continue to be around 2,500 deaths per year for the rest of this current decade before annual numbers begin to decline.
 
Foyle said that the UK continues to suffer the highest rate of asbestos-related disease in the world. Tomorrow (6 July) marks Action Mesothelioma Day.
 
Chair of the HSE Martin Temple said: “Despite the fact that Britain’s health and safety record is the envy of much of the world, the increase in the number of workers fatally injured is clearly a source of concern.
 
“Published in the same week as the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, the figures serve as a reminder of why health and safety is so important and that we must not become complacent as we continue on our mission to prevent all forms of injury, death and ill health at work.”

 

 

Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine

 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner

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