In November 2020, the HSE revealed that the total number of workplace accidents had reached a record low, sitting at just 111 for the year 2019/20.
However, the latest provisional results for the year 2020/21 have shown an increase to 142 deaths.
The number of fatal accidents in the workplace has been broadly flat over the last few years and still shows a marked improvement on totals collected at the beginning of the century (in 2000/01, the number of deaths stood at 292). Nevertheless, this latest figure is disappointing, especially as results have been collected in a year in which work hours have been disrupted, with many companies ceasing to operate temporarily, reducing their working hours or taking advantage of the government’s furlough scheme.
The most dangerous work
By number, the most dangerous industries continue to be construction and agriculture, forestry and fishing, both of which account for more than half the total number of workplace deaths. Construction remains the most dangerous of all with 39 fatal injuries occurring, although this does mark a drop of three on last year’s total.
However, when the rate of fatal injuries is taken into account (the number of fatalities per 100,000 workers in that industry), the waste and recycling sector joins agriculture, forestry and fishing as being among the most dangerous. Overall, the former’s fatality rate is 17 times higher than the average across all industries, while agriculture, forestry and fishery’s rate is 20 times higher.
Self-employed workers also stand out as being more at risk of a fatal accident. According to the report, 38% of fatal injuries in 2020/21 were sustained by self-employed workers, despite making up only 16% of the working population.
The proportion of fatal injuries to self-employed workers also rose in 2020/21 to reach a five-year high: in the period between 2016/17 to 2020/21, just 31% of fatal injuries were to the self-employed compared with 38% in the current year.
In terms of the work performed by the self-employed, the sector of agriculture, forestry and fishing stands out once again as one of the most dangerous sectors, although this time it is joined by the administrative and support services sector: in the five-year period from 2016/17, 60% or more of fatal injuries to self-employed workers occurred within these two industries.
Key causes of fatal injuries
The main cause of fatalities at work in 2020/21 was falls from a height, which caused 25% of all worker deaths over the year. This was closely followed by being struck by a moving vehicle, which resulted in 18% of deaths, and being struck by a moving object (12%).
Together, these three causes have been the main factors in worker deaths since at least 2001/02, representing more than half of all fatalities from this date.
Improving safety in the workplace
What these provisional statistics reveal is that there is still much to be done to improve workplace safety. There have been undeniable improvements since the turn of the century, but with the rate of fatalities remaining broadly flat over the past few years, there is still clearly work to be done to try and lower the number of workplace fatalities.
Implementing a strong framework of processes that integrate health & safety throughout your organisation can help to ensure that your workers remain happy, healthy and safe. One way of doing this is to implement ISO 45001, the international Standard of occupational health & safety.