235 Work Deaths in UK in 2003-04

July 30, 2004
The chairman of the UK's Health and Safety Commission (HSC) called for action in all industry sectors following the publication of the latest workplace statistics which show a 4 percent increase in the number of deaths at work last year.

New Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics report that 235 people were killed at work in 2003-04, eight more than in the previous year. Nine percent of the total number of fatal injuries to workers occurred in one single incident, when 21 people drowned while harvesting cockles in Morecambe Bay in February.

"I am disappointed that there has been no improvement in the number of reported fatalities this year behind these aggregate figures represent 235 individual tragedies," said Bill Callaghan. "These can be avoided, but often simple measures, ones that can prevent accidents, are not being put in place.

He said the statistics show that falls from heights remain a big safety problem in the UK, just as they do in the United States, but he added that incidents such as Morecambe Bay raise new issues. HSE has been working with industry to provide guidance in this area of work as the investigation continues.

"All workers, whatever their nationality or employment status, are subject to the protection and responsibilities of health and safety law," Callaghan noted.

Falls from heights accounted for to 29 percent (67) of all fatal incidents in 2003-04. This represents the first upturn in 3 years and the results confirm that fatal falls can and do occur across all sectors of industry with construction and services sectors presenting particular problems.

"Our falls from height program will continue with a strategy of pilot projects and sector-based approaches aimed at maintaining the general downward trend. Implementation by the end of the year of the proposed Work at Height Regulations will feed other planned activity," he added.

There were 70 construction fatalities in 2003-04 - no change from last year. However, employment has increased in construction and the fatal injury rate fell to 3.55 deaths per hundred thousand workers, the lowest level on record.

Being struck by a moving vehicle is also one of the common causes of fatality for workers, increasing from 39 deaths to 44. Segregation of vehicles and pedestrians and reversing vehicles remain the most frequent hazards.

Callaghan said HSC is developing and sharing best practice with industry and others to promote safer vehicle design, selection and maintenance, better site layout and better driver training.

"Great Britain has the second lowest rate of workplace fatalities in the European Union, beaten only by Sweden, but this should not be taken as a call for complacency. Most accidents can be easily prevented, though this needs the commitment of senior managers and the involvement of employees and the union representatives. These are the people who are best placed to achieve improvements," Callaghan said.

Copies of Statistics of Fatal Injuries 2003-04 are free and can be ordered from the Safety and Enforcement Statistics Unit, Health and Safety Executive, Room 403, Daniel House, Bootle, Merseyside L20 7HE, telephone: 0151

951 3864/4600, fax: 0151 951 3827. The book is also available online at www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/fatl0304.pdf.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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