Fatality Rates Drop in Britain, but Still 'Unacceptable'

Preliminary statistics for the year 2001-2002 indicate a decrease of 15 percent in the number of fatal injuries among Britain's workers, with 249 deaths compared to 292 in 2000-2001. The rate of fatal injuries dropped from 1.03 to 0.88 per 100,000 workers over the same period.

"Last year saw a considerable increase in the number of work-related fatalities in Britain," said Health and Safety Commission (HSC) Chair Bill Callaghan, "and I would have been bitterly disappointed to see the numbers remain at that level."

He said it's still to soon to draw any conclusions on whether the 2001-2002 figures represent a long-term downward trend. "For example," he said, "the figures are still 13 percent higher than two years ago. The number of fatal injuries to employees fell from 213 to 204, while fatal injuries to the self-employed fell from 79 to 45. A breakdown of the figures is available at www/hse.gov.uk/statistics/injury.htm

Of the 249 fatalities, 79 occurred in the construction industry and 39 in agriculture. In terms of type of fatality, 68 deaths were due to falls from height, 43 from moving or flying objects and 40 from moving vehicles.

"Every death is one too many and each causes pain and suffering for the victim, their friends and family," said Callaghan. "The levels are still unacceptable."

He said the government's task is to work for sustained improvement, which can only be achieved through partnership between employers, workers, trade unions and safety representatives.

Callaghan said he plans to focus on three key areas. HSC research shows that fatalities occur because employers fail to carry out risk assessments and take appropriate action to minimize those risks associated with their work activities. "This is not an optional extra. Employers must do risk assessments or face the legal and moral consequences," he said.

He said he wants more companies to set their own improvement targets and to include health and safety performance in their annual reports. "In an age when corporate reputation is king, no firm can afford the stigma of work-related death, injury and ill-health. Quite simply, it is bad for business," he pointed out.

He also said he wants every company to follow HSC's guidance on directors' duties, ensuring that health and safety is taken seriously in the board room and that businesses are, at very least, complying with their legal and moral responsibilities.

In March 2001, the government wrote to Britain's top 350 firms, asking them whether they have a board room director with responsibility for promoting health and safety issues; set health and safety improvement targets; and reported on health and safety performance in their annual reports. By May 2002, 103 companies had responded to the challenge.

Callaghan said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) should continue to tackle the biggest hazards and worst-performing sectors of industry through its priority programs initiative (much like OSHA's national emphasis programs), particularly as the majority of fatalities occur in priority program areas. The HSC identified eight priority areas where improvement is most needed in order to meet government improvement targets. They are construction, agriculture, healthcare, falls from heights, slips and trips, work-related transportation, work-related stress, and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Mike Cosman of HSE's Construction Division said he's encouraged to see the number of construction fatalities dropping from 105 in 2000-2001 to 79 in 2001-2002, "but this only represents a return to the average of the mid-1990s."

He said that at the top level of the industry, the HSE is seeing a greater commitment to improving health and safety. "However, at site level, and in particular with small contractors, performance is not good enough," he added. "The recent construction blitzes around Britain resulted in prohibition notices to stop dangerous work being served on nearly half the sites we visited, while the companies who appeared in court earlier this month represented a cross-section of the industry and demonstrate the scale of the problems we still face."

In spring and summer 2002, the HSE carried out 1,113 construction site blitzes around Britain, resulting in 460 prohibition notices and 97 improvement notices being served. Nine firms from the South East were prosecuted by the HSE, resulting in total fines of more than £28,000. More prosecutions are planned.

Employers operating facilities where fatalities occur will soon receive some unwanted publicity. Due to new programs for health and safety reporting, the HSE will share the full details of all fatalities, including work-related fatalities and all work-related major injuries and injuries that involve more than three lost workdays, to members of the public in a report to be published in November 2002.

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