A fall in numbers: UK work-related fatal accidents in 2019/20
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the United Kingdom has released its annual figures for the number of work-related fatalities in 2019/20, as well as the number of people known to have died from asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, in 2018.
Provisional annual data for work-related fatal incidents revealed that 111 workers were fatally injured at work between April 2019 and March 2020 (a rate of 0.34 deaths per 100,000 workers), representing a fall of 38 deaths from the previous year. However, it is likely that this fall was accentuated by the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the economy in the final two months of the year. These figures do not include deaths from occupational disease; therefore COVID-19 infections are not part of these figures and will not feature in fatal injury statistics in subsequent years. Despite the overall long-term reduction in the number of annual fatalities (having almost halved in the last 20 years), aside from the current fall, the number has remained broadly level in recent years.
HSE Chief Executive Sarah Albon said that while these statistics do not reflect COVID-19-related loss of life, it is a pertinent time to reflect, as many workers risked their lives to help others during the outbreak. “Every workplace fatality is a tragedy and while we are encouraged by this improvement, today’s statistics are 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,” Albon said. The figures show the spread of fatal injuries across industrial sectors, recording 40 fatal injuries to construction workers, accounting for the largest share. Over the last five years, the number has fluctuated, with the annual average at 37 fatal injuries. The annual average rate over the last five years in construction is around four times as high as the all industry rate.
There were 20 fatal injuries to agricultural, forestry and fishing workers recorded, the lowest level on record. Despite this, the sector accounts for a large share of the annual fatality count and has the highest rate of fatal injury of all the main industry sectors, 18 times as high as the all industry rate. Five fatal injuries were recorded for waste and recycling workers; despite being a small sector in terms of employment, the annual average fatal injury rate over the last five years is around 18 times as high as the all industry rate. Albon stated that fatal injuries in certain sectors of the economy remain worryingly high. While agriculture, forestry and fishing makes up a small fraction of Great Britain’s workforce, it accounted for approximately 20% of worker fatalities in the previous year.
“Work-related deaths fracture families, they shatter communities, and so many of them can be avoided,” Albon said. “The work that HSE does is about more than numbers, we are continually working with duty holders to ensure that they assess and appropriately manage risk to their employees. These efforts are a vital part of keeping essential services going, particularly as duty holders adapt to the current circumstances.” The three most common causes of fatal injuries included workers falling from height (29), being struck by a moving vehicle (20) and being struck by a moving object (18), accounting for 60% of fatal injuries in 2019/20. The figures highlighted the risks to older workers, with 27% of fatal injuries in 2019/20 occurring to workers aged 60 or over, even though such workers make up only 10% of the workforce.
Members of the public also continue to be killed in connection with work-related accidents, with 51 members of the public killed in 2019/20 as a result of a work-related accident in HSE enforced workplaces (33 of which occurred in the Health and Social Work sector and 41 occurred on railways). Mesothelioma, which is contracted through past exposure to asbestos and is one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly, killed 2446 in Great Britain in 2018; lower than the average 2550 over the previous five years. Current figures are largely a consequence of occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before 1980. Annual mesothelioma deaths are expected to fall below current levels in future.
A fuller assessment of work-related ill health and injuries, drawing on HSE’s range of data sources, will be released on 4 November 2020.
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