Natural variation may explain slight increase in latest workplace fatality figures published by the HSE

Date published

19/09/2019

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Overview

At the beginning of July 2019 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its annual provisional figures for workplace fatalities for 2018/19 (the Report).

The statistics show that 147 people were fatally injured at work between April 2018 and March 2019. Of those 147 fatalities, 106 were employees and 41 were self-employed, compared with 97 employees and 44 self-employed in 2017/18.

The total number of workplace fatalities has increased by six from the 2017/18 period. The HSE’s report acknowledges the increase, but suggests that it is possible that the change can be explained by natural variation in the figures. The report explains that, “there is a degree of chance and randomness to the annual count resulting in an element of natural variation from one year’s count to the next.” It is fair to say that the figure has remained broadly level with the average annual number of workers fatally injured at work over the past five years (2014/15 to 2018/19) at 142.

Industry figures

The number of fatal injuries in 2018/19 for each of the main industry sectors is generally in line with the annual average over the last five years. Consideration of the absolute fatal injury count for a number of different industries, highlights the construction industry and the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries as having the highest levels of fatalities, accounting for 32 and 30 fatal accidents respectively. Fatality figures (from the Report) for the main industry sectors are set out below:

  • Construction – 32
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing - 30
  • Manufacturing – 26
  • Wholesale retails, transportation, accommodation and food – 18
  • Transportation and storage – 16
  • Administrative and support services - 10
  • Waste and recycling – 7

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. The fatal injury rate is calculated with reference to the total number of fatalities per 100,000 workers employed in each industry sector. Analysing the figures in this way allows us to consider the size of the industry as against the number of fatal incidents across a 12 month period, and provides a different picture from the figures set out above.

For example, the construction industry had the highest total number of fatalities of all the industry groups last year. However, due to the high number of workers employed within the construction industry, the fatal injury rate is 1.31 per 100,000 employees. This can be compared to the waste and recycling industry which despite having seven fatalities, far less than in construction, had the second highest fatal accident rate of all industry groups at 6.05.

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. Underlined by this industry group having the second highest number of fatal accidents and the highest fatal accident rate, with a figure of 9.21.

Accident type

The majority, in the region of 75%, of fatal workplace injuries in 2018/9 (as well as over the past five years) occurred as a result of the same five accident types:

Falls from height – 40 (with a five-year annual average of 36).
Being struck by a moving vehicle – 30 (with a five-year annual average of 27).
Being struck by a moving object – 16 (with a five-year annual average of 18).
Becoming trapped by an object which has collapsed or overturned – 11 (with a five-year annual average of 14).
Contact with moving machinery – 14 (with a five-year annual average of 11).
36 fatalities occurred as a result of “other” kinds of accident including, but not limited to: being injured by an animal (eight fatalities), drowning or asphyxiation (five fatalities) and explosion (five fatalities).

It is of note that the three most common accident types within the list above accounted for almost 60% of all fatalities during 2018/19.

Worker age

In terms of age, 25% of fatal injuries in 2018/19 were to workers aged 60 and over, even though such workers made up only around 10% of the workforce.

An examination of the fatal accident rate for each age group for the period 2014/15 to 2018/19 shows that ageing significantly increases risks to workers. Workers aged 60-64 having a rate almost double the all-ages rate, and workers aged over 65 having a rate almost four times as high.

Comment

Whilst the recently published figures show an increase of six workplace fatalities from the previous year, in statistical terms the number of fatalities has remained broadly level in recent years. This is despite the introduction of the Definitive Guideline for Health and Safety Offences (the Guideline) in February 2016, which has significantly increased the financial penalties that can be imposed on organisations for health and safety offences. It was anticipated that the Guideline would have a deterrent effect on offending and would lead to improvements to health and safety standards across all industries. With fatal accident statistics remaining largely static, and with the majority of fatalities resulting from the same accident types year on year, there remains scope for improvement.

A fuller assessment of work-related ill-health and injuries will be provided as part of the HSE’s annual Health and Safety Statistics to be released later this year.

Related item: Health and safety performance in the construction industry

Read other items in Health, Safety and Environment Brief - September 2019