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Published 6 July 2020
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released its annual figures for the number of work related fatalities in 2019/2020. The figures only relate to those cases of fatal injury that the enforcing authorities have assessed as meeting the reporting criteria for workplace injuries as set out in the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). They include both fatal injuries to workers and to members of the public, though the number of deaths to members of the public do not include those that occurred in Local Authority enforced workplaces for 2019/20. The HSE have stated that they have been unable to verify these cases with Local Authorities given the pressures on them arising from the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, the numbers of deaths to workers in 2019/20 are unaffected and include deaths in all settings.
A total of 111 workers were killed at work in Great Britain in 2019/20, a decrease of 38 from the previous year and a rate of 0.34 deaths per 100,000 worker. This is the lowest annual number on record. However, the HSE has stressed that the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the economy in the final two months of the year has probably contributed towards the decline.
40 fatal injuries to construction workers were recorded (up from 30 last year), accounting for the largest share. The annual average for the past five years is 37.
20 fatal injuries to agricultural, forestry and fishing workers were recorded (down from 32 last year). This is the lowest level on record. Despite this fall, this sector continues to account for a large share of the annual fatality count.
15 fatal injuries in the manufacturing sector were recorded (down from 26 last year).
The figures also show that the risk of injury is greatest in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector and the waste and recycling sector with a rate of injury for each sector being 18 times as high as the average across all of the industry sectors (when considered against the annual averages for 2014/15 – 2019/20).
The three most common causes of fatal injuries continue to be:
The above account for 60% of fatal injuries in 2019/20.
The other main types of accident include trapped by something collapsing / overturning (15) and contact with moving machinery (11).
Fatal injuries to workers are predominately to male workers. In 2019/20, 108 (97%) of all worker fatalities were to male workers, a similar proportion to earlier years.
In terms of age, 27% of fatal injuries in 2019/20 were to workers aged 60 and over, even though such workers made up only around 10% of the workforce.
In 2019/20, 51 members of the public were killed as a result of a work-related accident in HSE enforced workplaces and a further 41 occurred on railways (enforced by the Office for Road and Rail). Typically, in recent years the number of such deaths has ranged between 12 and 16 deaths annually.
85 fatal incidents occurred in England, 16 in Wales and 10 in Scotland.
In terms of fatal injury rate, England consistently has a lower injury rate than either Scotland or Wales. However, injury rates are strongly influenced by variations in the mix of industries and occupations and in England there are a greater proportion of people working in lower risk jobs than in Scotland and Wales.
The UK consistently has one of the lowest rates of fatal injury across Europe.
In 2017, the standardised rate (published by Eurostat, the statistical authority for the EU) at 0.52 per 100,000 employees, was one of the lowest of all European countries and compares favourably with other large economies such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland. Similarly, the UK three-year average rate for 2014-2016 (0.53 per 100,000 employees) was the lowest of all EU member states.
Even without COVID-19, 2019/20 was on track for a lower number of deaths over the year compared with recent years. However, the number of deaths in both February and March were particularly low compared to other recent time periods and this coincides with the time that COVID-19 was starting to have an impact on the economy. While it is not possible to say what the number of deaths in February and March would have been in the absence of COVID-19, there is certainly the distinct possibility that the number of deaths to workers was affected by the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
While there has been a long-term reduction in the number of annual fatalities (the number has almost halved in the last 20 years), and aside from the current fall, the number has remained broadly level in recent years. A fuller assessment of work-related ill-health and injuries, drawing on HSE’s full range of data sources, will be provided as part of the HSE’s annual Health and Safety Statistics release in November 2020.
Following the release of the figures, HSE’s Chief Executive, Sarah Albon, said:
“No one should be hurt or killed by the work they do. In these extraordinary times, we have seen many workers risking their lives to help others during the coronavirus outbreak. Although these statistics are not a reflection on Covid-19 related loss of life, it is a pertinent time to reflect.
… Every workplace fatality is a tragedy and while we are encouraged by this improvement, today’s statistics is a reminder that we cannot become complacent as we look to continue to work together to make Great Britain an even safer place to live and work.”
The industries mentioned above involve inherent risks from working at height, working with vehicles / machines, etc. The statistics published by the HSE, and the message that followed from Sarah Albon, suggest that there is still a need for increased awareness of the risks in these sectors.
Falling from height continues to be the biggest risk, followed by being struck by a moving vehicle and object. Whether it’s ensuring adequate protection whilst working at height, making sure traffic management plans and pedestrian / vehicle segregation is implemented and enforced, or ensuring exclusion zones are in place around moving objects, the risks of fatality must be identified and managed.
In the event of a serious injury or fatality, which inevitably will result in an HSE investigation and potential prosecution, organisations and individuals are at real risk of facing large fines and potentially custodial sentences for breaches of health and safety law. It is essential that risk assessments, safe systems of work and method statements are in place and that they have been communicated effectively and understood by the workforce. Accidents can also largely be avoided through effective training, supervision, monitoring and clear documentation.
Our national Regulatory team advises organisations across a diverse range of sectors on compliance with their statutory health and safety, product safety and environmental obligations, and help them to manage their response to major incidents, and to protect their interests, particularly when faced with the threat of investigation or prosecution by the regulatory authorities. We also offer a wide range of training sessions and workshops. For more information or advice, please contact one of our specialist lawyers.
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