Health and Safety Executive publish annual figures for workplace fatal injuries
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently published its annual provisional figures for workplace fatal injuries that were reported to enforcing authorities in 2019/20 (the Report).
The statistics show that 111 people were fatally injured at work in Great Britain between April 2019 and March 2020, representing the lowest annual figure on record.
On the face of it, the figures indicate a significant reduction. However, the HSE indicates that the figures for 2019/200 “are potentially affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the GB economy.” The message from the HSE continues to be that there is still room for improvement.
When compared to the fatalities in 2018/19 we see the total number of workplace fatalities has decreased by 38. The 2019/20 figure also represents a significant drop when compared with the average annual number of workers fatally injured at work over the past five years, the average being 137.
The HSE acknowledges the decrease, but suggests that the change can be explained by the impact of COVID-19 on the economy in the final two months of the year to March 2020, when many businesses ground to a halt and as such fewer fatal incidents would have occurred. That being said, further analysis of the figures indicates that the first 10 months of the 2019/20 period are comparatively lower than previous years. The HSE suggest that this may be explained by natural variation in the figures, but whether that is the case or not we will not know until future statistics can be analysed to identify whether this year is the start of a downward trend.
In statistical terms the number of fatalities has remained broadly level in recent years, and the HSE concludes that “the fall seen in the current year, while striking, may not reflect any major shift in the inherent dangerousness of workplaces.”
Industry figures – the statistics
The number of fatal injuries in 2019/20 for each of the main industry sectors is generally in line with the annual average over the last five years. The construction industry, and the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry have the highest levels of fatalities, which correlates with the historic position in relation to both these industries. Fatality figures for the main industry sectors are set out below:
- Construction – 40
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing - 20
- Manufacturing – 15
- Wholesale retails, transportation, accommodation and food – 6
- Transportation and storage – 11
- Administrative and support services - 6
- Waste and recycling – 5
- Other – 8
However, looking simply at the absolute count does not provide the full picture and the “fatal injury rate” referred to in the Report, should also be considered. Analysing the figures in this way allows for consideration of the size of the industry as against the number of fatal incidents (per 100,000 workers) across a 12 month period.
For example, the construction industry had the highest total number of fatalities of all the industry groups last year, and was the only industry which saw an increase in fatalities. However, due to the high number of workers employed within the construction industry, the fatal injury rate is 1.74. In contrast, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry, which saw the figure falling to the lowest level on record (20), with 50% fewer fatalities than in construction, had the highest fatal accident rate of all industry groups at 5.96.
Taking into account both the total number of fatalities and the fatal injury rate, the high risk of fatal injury in agriculture, forestry and fishing is particularly evident.
Accident type – the statistics
The majority, in the region of 80%, of fatal workplace injuries in 2019/20 occurred as a result of the same five accident types:
- Falls from height – 29 (annual average of 34)
- Being struck by a moving vehicle – 20 (annual average of 26)
- Being struck by a moving object – 18 (annual average of 18)
- Becoming trapped by an object which has collapsed or overturned – 15 (annual average of 14)
- Contact with moving machinery – 11 (annual average of 11)
There were a further 18 fatalities that occurred as a result of “other” kinds of accident including, but not limited to: slips, trips or falls on the same level (2), exposure or contact with a harmful substance (2), exposure to an explosions (2), or injured by an animal (2).
Worker age and gender – the statistics
Fatal injuries to workers are predominately to male workers. In 2019/20, 108 (97%) worker fatalities were to male workers, a similar proportion to earlier years (the figure was 95% in 2018/19).
In terms of age, 27% of fatal injuries in 2019/20 were to workers aged 60 and over (compared to 25% for the previous period), even though such workers made up only around 10% of the workforce.
Whilst the recently published figures show a decrease of 38 workplace fatalities from the previous year, the HSE consider this to be in part attributable to the fact that many businesses have not been fully operational because of COVID-19.
The HSE conclude that the decrease could be explained by natural variation in the figures i.e. if there were identical conditions in two different years the figures are unlikely to be the same as there is an element of chance and randomness. However, whether or not that is the case remains to be seen – it appears that only through examination of the figures in the coming years will it be possible to identify whether this year is an anomaly or the start of a downward trend.