Work-related fatalities have fallen to the second lowest figure on record, with 137 workers killed between April 2016 and March 2017. This is according to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), which has this week published its annual report into fatal injuries arising from accidents at work.
Fatal injuries are rare in the workplace. Over the last twelve months, the rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers was 0.4 — about the same as the previous five years. This reflects a long-term downward trend, and is an encouraging indicator that modern health and safety practices are helping to improve safety standards for the British workforce.
However, while the 2016/17 fatality figure is one of the lowest recorded, there are signs that the two-decade decline in workplace deaths is beginning to level off — raising questions about what more can be done to reduce fatal injuries.
Perhaps more worrying is the fact that the majority of fatal injuries occur in just a handful of industry sectors. HSE figures reveal that around a fifth of all workplace fatalities in 2016/17 occurred in the construction industry, whilst agriculture accounted for an additional 20%. The manufacturing sector had the third highest rate of workplace fatalities, followed by transport and waste recycling.
Given the nature of the work involved, it’s easy to see why labour-intensive industries would have the highest rate of fatal injuries. However, figures from the past five years suggest that fatalities in construction, agriculture and manufacturing have remained broadly level, and have actually increased in waste management and recycling.
The HSE acknowledges that workplace fatality rates are levelling, and has pledged to continue on its “unwavering mission” to prevent injury and death by protecting people and reducing risks in the workplace. But with little evidence to suggest that fatalities have fallen by any significant number over the past decade, are the HSE and other health and safety bodies really doing enough to safeguard people at work?
Fatal Workplace Accidents — Which Workers are Most at Risk?
The HSE fatal injuries report offers deep insight into the prevalence of serious accidents in the workplace, showing the total number of work-related deaths by industry, gender, age and even region within the UK. From this data, it’s possible to assess which workers are most at risk from fatal injury, and where in the country they’re likely to live.
In 2016/17, 97% of all people killed in accidents at work were men, a similar proportion to other years. What is interesting is the age of the workers involved in fatal accidents. HSE data shows that workers aged 60-64 accounted for a quarter of all workplace deaths in 2016/17, whilst workers over 65 had an average fatality rate four times higher than younger workers. These figures are troubling, and suggest that more needs to be done to keep older workers safe, and make them aware of modern health and safety processes.
In terms of fatal injuries per region in the UK, England had a consistently lower rate than Scotland and Wales. However, some areas of the country had a higher prevalence for workplace fatalities than others, with the South West, London, East Midlands, North West and Yorkshire and The Humber accounting for more fatalities than other regions.
Our View on Fatal Workplace Accidents
While the HSE’s report shows a fall in work-related deaths compared to the previous year, the overall picture suggests a levelling off in the reduction of fatal injuries. Some industries actually fared worse in this year’s report, making it clear that significant changes are needed to improve worker safety in some sectors.
It’s worrying that older workers over the age of 60 are more prone to workplace fatalities than any other age group, particularly in industries like agriculture, where health and safety processes are often poorly managed or overlooked. We’re calling on health and safety chiefs to provide greater education to older workers about the importance of adequate safety measures, in the hope that further tragedies can be avoided.
Through our work dealing with accident at work claims, we see the devastating impact fatal and serious injuries in the workplace can have on individuals and their families. That’s why we do all we can to raise awareness for the importance of health and safety processes, and encourage business leaders to take a proactive approach to safeguarding their workforce.