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HSE releases annual workplace fatality figures

Updated: Feb 16

The HSE has released its annual figures for work-related fatal injuries for 2017/18 and Ed Hodson, Senior Health and Safety Consultant in rradar’s Business Crime and Regulatory Team took a look at them.

Ed said “rradar’s clients are involved in all sectors covered in the HSE statistics and this is a timely reminder for us to re-focus on the dangers involved in high-risk activities. Our recent investigations have highlighted three significant areas of concern:

  • Safe systems of work, which have been carefully established for workers’ safety are overridden by the development of a ‘custom and practice.’ On the surface, subtle changes may not appear to be significant. However, if work processes change, even temporarily, the gaps and risks in safety management will widen until the inevitable accident occurs. It may not be immediately, but when it does occur, my next concern is laid bare.

  • Managers and supervisors may face difficult questions over the monitoring and supervision of the activity. “Consent and connivance” is the legal term used and this presents a ‘Catch 22’ scenario; either they knew, and did nothing or didn’t know but should have.

  • Deficiencies in ‘instruction and training; with a multi-cultural workforce, many of whom don’t have English as a first language, it’s extremely important to verify that they’ve understood the information, instruction and training provided, rather than their own interpretation of it.

rradar’s philosophy is one of prevention and we encourage all our clients, irrespective of industry, to be proactive and speak to rradar for advice and guidance."

The statistics

Between April 2017 and March 2018, 144 workers were fatally injured. Although this is up nine from 2016/17, there’s been a long-term reduction in the number of fatalities since 1981 and the level has stayed broadly the same in recent years.

The figures indicate the spread of fatal injuries across the different industrial sectors:

  • The largest share - 38 fatal injuries – was recorded in the construction industry. The annual average rate over the last five years in construction is around four times as high as the all-industry rate.

  • 29 fatal injuries to agricultural workers were recorded. This sector has the highest rate of fatal injury of all the main industry sectors, around 18 times as high as the all-industry rate.

  • 12 waste and recycling workers suffered fatal injuries. The sector is relatively small in terms of employment but the annual average fatal injury rate over the last five years is around 16 times higher than the all-industry rate.

  • 15 workers sustained fatal injuries in both the manufacturing and the transport and storage sectors. Both industries have an annual average rate of fatal injury around 1.5 - 2 times the rate across all industries over the last five years.

Ed said, “We’re concerned by the fact that the accidents and fatalities in the waste and recycling sector show no sign of reducing significantly.”

Common causes of fatal injuries

The three most common causes continue to be:

  • workers falling from height (35),

  • being struck by a moving vehicle (26) and

  • being struck by a moving object (23)

These three accounted for nearly 60 per cent of fatal injuries in 2017/18. Ed said, “It must be of great concern that the high-risk activities involving working at height, workplace transport, machinery and agriculture remain the main source of workplace fatalities.”

Older workers

The figures also show the risks to older workers; four out of ten workers killed in 2017/18 were aged 60 or over, even though that age group makes up only around 10 per cent of the workforce.

Ed said, “We’re seeing employees with significant ‘experience’ losing their life, or limbs as a lifetime of work ends abruptly. It’s important to recognise that age can be a factor, whether it be the naturally slowing reaction of the body, fatigue, concentration or ‘custom and practice’.”

Danger to the public

It’s not just workers who are in danger; 100 members of the public were fatally injured in incidents connected to work in 2017/18. Just over half of these fatalities occurred on railways.

Asbestos and mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is contracted through past exposure to asbestos and it’s one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly. It killed over 2,500 in 2016.

The current figures are mainly due to occupational asbestos exposures before 1980. Annual deaths should start to decline after 2020.

Full details can be accessed through these links annual figures for work-related fatal injuries for 2017/18[1], mesothelioma, in 2016.

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