Work Safety in the U.K.: Fatalities Down, Falls from Heights the Biggest Killer

The latest statistics on fatal injuries in Great Britain are getting a mixed reaction from the head of the agency that publishes them each year.

From April 1, 2004, to March 31, 2005, 220 workers were killed, 16 fewer than the previous year, according to the latest detailed statistics published by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC). The statistics on fatal injuries cover work sectors enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authority (LA).

While the latest statistics indicate a 7-percent drop in the number of workplace deaths, HSC Chair Bill Callaghan called for all sections of industry to continue to improve their control of risk.

"Although we are making progress, I remain concerned that so many people continue to lose their lives at work," Callaghan said. "Behind these figures are enormous personal tragedies involving the unexpected loss of family and friends."

Callaghan also expressed concern that this year's report shows that falls from height continue to be the most common workplace killer in Great Britain. Falls from height accounted for 24 percent of workplace deaths in 2004-2005 one in four fatalities although the number dropped from 68 the previous year to 53.

"This is a particular concern especially in the construction and services sectors," Callaghan said. "The new Work at Height Regulations require planning, competent people and selection of appropriate, maintained equipment a common sense approach that shouldn't be beyond anyone."

Being struck by a moving or falling object, and being struck by a moving vehicle, are the next most common causes of workplace fatalities.

The statistics also show that:

  • The rate of workplace deaths decreased by 7 percent from 0.81 the previous year to 0.75 per 100,000 workers in 2004-2005, the lowest rate on record. There was a general downward trend in the rate in the 1990s. However it has risen twice since then, in 2000-2001 and in 2003-2004.
  • In May 2004, nine fatalities occurred following a single incident at a plastics factory in Scotland.
  • In 2004-2005, 114 (52 percent) worker fatalities occurred in construction (72) and agriculture (42).

Pointing to the slight increase in construction fatalities in 2004-2005, Callaghan explained that employment has increased in construction. He added that the fatal injury rate for construction fell (to 3.48 deaths per 100,000 workers), the lowest rate on record.

"The challenge will be to continue this progress, particularly, as major projects start up following our successful Olympic bid in the next few years," Callaghan said.

Industry by industry, the statistics show that:

  • In agriculture, the number of worker fatalities dropped from 44 the previous year to 42 in 2004-2005. (Twenty-one of the 2003-2004 deaths occurred at Morecambe Bay.) The rate of workplace fatalities also decreased from 11.3 per 100,000 workers in 2003-2004 to 10.4, although this rate has fluctuated in recent years with no discernible trend.
  • In manufacturing, the number of fatal injuries to workers rose from 30 the previous year to 41 (which includes the plastics factory incident), reversing the recent downward trend. The rate of worker fatalities rose from 0.9 to 1.2 per 100,000 workers.
  • In service industries, there were 63 worker deaths, a decrease from 81 the year before. The rate of fatalities also fell, from 0.35 per 100,000 workers to 0.27. This reverses the increasing trend of the previous 3 years. The services sector comprises a wide range of activities. Increases have occurred in sewage and refuse disposal (from 1 the previous year to 10) and fire service activities (from an average of 1 per year recently to 5 this year). Motor vehicle sale and repair has seen a reduction, from an average of 8 fatalities per year to 3.
  • In extractive and utility supply industries, there were two fatal injuries to workers, compared with 10 the year before and 3 the year before that.
  • 361 members of the public died as the result of a workplace activity, of which 244 resulted from acts of suicide or trespass on railways. The year before, the corresponding figures were 374 and 243, respectively.

For the combined period of the past 3 years, the industries with the highest rate of worker deaths include the recycling of waste and scrap (18.6 per 100,000 employees) and the mining of coal, lignite and peat extraction (10.2) industries.

Great Britain's Safety Numbers Match Up Well

Within the European Union, only Sweden has a lower rate of workplace fatalities than Great Britain, according to Callaghan.

"But we are not complacent. More deaths could be prevented with enough commitment from senior managers and the active involvement of employees," he said. "These are the people who are best-placed to achieve improvements.

"The Health and Safety Commission and the Executive remain committed to being a good partner working with others to improve health and safety risk management. We need the support of all our stakeholders to realize our vision of health and safety as a cornerstone of a civilized society. "

The reporting of health and safety incidents at work is a statutory requirement in Great Britain, mandated by the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations of 1995.

A reportable incident includes:

  • A death or major injury;
  • Any accident that does not result in major injury, but the injured person still has to take 4 or more days off their normal work to recover;
  • A work-related disease;
  • A member of the public being injured as a result of work-related activity and taken to hospital for treatment; or
  • A dangerous occurrence (which does not result in a serious injury, but could have).

The statistics include data for Great Britain, Wales, Scotland and the regions of England, together with statistics relating to European Union member states.

The report can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/fatl0405.pdf.

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