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HSE releases fatality figures - Implications for employers

Updated: Feb 16

Each year, the Health and Safety Executive releases statistics on the number, cause and location of workplace fatalities. They have just released the 2018/19 figures and they make illustrative, if sobering, reading. rradar Business Crime and Regulation solicitor Matt Coles takes a look at what this could mean for employers.

The provisional annual data for work-related fatal injuries revealed that 147 workers were fatally injured between April 2018 and March 2019 (a rate of 0.45 per 100,000 workers).

There has been a long-term reduction in the number of fatalities since 1981. Although 2018/19 saw an increase of 6 workplace fatalities from 2017/18, the number has remained broadly level in recent years.

The HSE said that the figures serve as a reminder that there is no room for complacency regarding health and safety.

The new figures show how fatal injuries are spread across the different industrial sectors:

Agriculture, forestry and fishing (32 deaths) Construction sector (30 deaths)Manufacturing (26 deaths) are the three most affected sectors.

The four most common causes of fatal injuries continue to be;

  • workers falling from height (40),

  • being struck by a moving vehicle (30) and

  • being struck by a moving object (16),

  • contact with moving machinery (14)

These four categories account for 68% of fatal injuries in 2018/19.

The new figures continued to highlight the risks to older workers; 25 per cent of fatal injuries in 2018/19 (37 deaths) were to workers aged 60 or over, even though such workers made up only around 10 per cent of the workforce. Companies need to look at the needs of older workers and determine if their work practices and procedures take those needs into account.

But it’s not just workers who are in danger from accidents and incidents. During the same period, 92 members of the public were fatally injured in incidents connected with work. About a third of these took place on railways. As a business, you need to review your practices regarding public access to your workplace or site. Are there procedures in place to ensure that members of the public know where they can – and can’t – go and how to behave whilst on site?

In addition to the release of work-related fatality figures, the HSE also publish details on the incidence of mesothelioma, which is contracted through past exposure to asbestos and is one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly. In 2017, the disease killed 2,523 people in Great Britain. This figure was broadly similar to those of the previous five years. The current figures are largely due to occupational asbestos exposures that happened before 1980. Because of this historical lag, the annual death level is expected to stay more or less the same until 2020, when it should start to decline.

The figures should be of particular interest to employers, particularly those who operate in the most dangerous sectors highlighted in the report. Since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced just over three years ago, the consequences of health and safety breaches have become significantly more serious. Companies who are found guilty of breaches can now expect fines of six figures or more, depending on their level of culpability and the size of their business.

The wise business owner will take a two-pronged approach – proactively putting in place procedures and policies to avoid the risk of incidents occurring in the first place, combined with a reactive support system, accessing expert legal representation if an incident does happen. If the HSE arrive on the doorstep, those first few hours are crucial and the seeds of success (or failure) can be sown at that point. Companies who can call on legal support 24/7 will get the guidance they need to avoid inadvertently making things worse for themselves.

rradar’s smarter legal services help businesses in trouble by providing legal representation but they also provide information, guidance and online resources that can be used to build robust compliance systems that will greatly reduce the chance of trouble happening in the first place.

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