Work Deaths Down, Sick Days Up in UK

New figures published yesterday by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) show that 249 people were killed in work-related accidents around Britain in 2001-2002, which is 43 fewer fatalities than in 2000-2001.

There were 27,477 major injuries, some 47 fewer than in 2001-2002, while workers took an estimated 40.2 million days off work due to illness and injury.

The three most common causes of work-related deaths were falls from heights (44 people); being struck by a moving or flying object (43 people); and being struck by a moving vehicle (40 people).

Slips and trips were the biggest cause of non-fatal workplace injuries, accounting for over a third (37 per cent) of the total. The three riskiest industries for major injuries were: mining (803 cases per 100,000 workers); the water industry (652 cases per 100,000); and railways (631 cases per 100,000).

An estimated 40.2 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and injury - 32.9 million due to illness and 7.3 million due to injury. Of days lost due to illness, roughly two-thirds could be attributed to just two causes: stress and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Some 13.4 million lost work days were attributed to stress, anxiety or depression, while 12.3 million were lost to MSDs. An estimated 1,126,000 people suffered from MSDs, while a further 563,000 were affected by stress. Over the 12 months, there was an estimated 265,000 new cases of stress.

"My first reaction is that these figures show little change - and I take no comfort from that," said HSE Chair Bill Callaghan. "We have much to do to achieve a step change in health and safety improvement. This is only the second year in a 10-year program, but I expect to see some momentum in following years."

Callaghan said occupational health is a key area for improvement and presents the toughest challenge to occupational safety and health professionals. "Stress seems to be endemic in modern society, both inside and outside the workplace - and the rate of increase in recent years has been considerable," Callaghan said. "Many people talk about 'stress-management.' The key to reversing the upward trend is to avoid stress in the first place. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has already provided guidance to employers and we have a number of initiatives in place to get to grips with the problem."

Callaghan said the number of lost work days brings home "what a waste health and safety failures represent to Britain's businesses, as well as the pain caused to the victims."

He added that while he was encouraged to see a reduction in work-related fatalities, "it is too soon to tell whether this is the resumption of a downward trend. Every death is one too many."

I am also concerned by the rate of major injuries, and by the fact that there has been no significant movement here for a number of years. The key to progress is partnership between all those with an interest in improving health and safety at work."

The report's highlights are available at www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overpic.htm while the full report is at www.hse.gov.uk/statistics.

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