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Risk

Fall in workplace fatalities — evidence of a safer society?

This article summarises the report’s main findings, the sectors most and least impacted and with the most common accident types.

On 6 July 2022, the HSE published its annual report and the number of fatal accidents which occurred in the workplace — this time covering the period April 2021 to March 2022. This article summarises the report’s main findings, the sectors most and least impacted, and with the most common accident types. We also consider the long-term trends and ask, in the context of falling employers’ liability claim notifications, whether the UK is becoming a safer society.

Headlines

  • 2021/2022 saw 123 workplace fatalities — a decline of 22 from 2020/2021.
  • Almost a quarter of fatalities occurred in the construction sector with 18 % each in agricultural/ forestry/ fishing and manufacturing respectively.
  • 25 % of fatalities occurred to workers aged 60 years and above.
  • The most common kind of fatal accident occurred from both: “falling from height” (29) and “struck by a moving vehicle” (23).
  • The UK fatality rate per 100,000 workers was 0.38 in 2021/22, which the HSE regards as “in line” with the pre-pandemic figures.

In greater detail

By sector

Whilst the construction sector with 30 deaths, had the highest number of numerical fatalities, its rate, assessed per 100,000 workers, amounted to 1.47 – compared to agricultural, forestry and fishing which had a rate almost six times higher (8.03). Construction fatalities fell in 2021/2022 by 10 compared to the previous year.

In context, both sectors had a fatality rate several times the industry average; 21 times the average for agricultural, forestry and fishing and four times the average for construction.

Gender, age and the self-employed

The overwhelming number of workplace fatalities occurred to men (94 %), with those over 60 years old statistically having the highest rate. The Report draws no conclusions as to the reasons why such a heavy bias exists in relation to both gender and age, though we can speculate, that sectors which feature high for workplace fatalities such as agriculture, forestry and fishing and construction have historically been seen as male dominated industries.

Self-employed workers accounted for 34 % of all fatalities, despite making up just 16 % of the workforce. The biases seen in gender, age and self-employed status remain in keeping with previous years.

Longer term trends

Pleasingly, this year’s decline in fatalities confirms a longer, underlying trend which has been steadily downwards. In 1981, the first year when statistics were properly collated, the HSE recorded 495 deaths with 251 fatalities seen at the turn of the millennium (2001/2002).

The UK in context

We have seen in recent months Portal and CRU data revealing declining employers’ and public liability claim notifications and registrations. These sit alongside the HSE’s Summary Statistics Paper published in December 2021 which evidenced declining levels of workplace accidents.

This latest HSE paper and the underlying trend of declining workplace fatalities appears to be further evidence that the workplaces of the United Kingdom are becoming safer. Concerns expressed by some at the time, that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (2013) (and particularly Section 69), would lead to a lessening of safety standards, have not eventuated.

In comparison with other European countries, the UK has one of the lowest fatal accident rates with an average fatality rate over the past five years of 0.61 per 100,000 workers – bettered only by Germany (0.55) — and in stark contrast to both France, (3.07) and Spain (1.49).

Where the UK performs less well, however, is its legacy of past occupational exposure to dust, chemicals and asbestos.

The HSE estimates that 12,000 respiratory and cancer deaths are attributable each year, in whole or in part to past occupational exposures, of which 2500 relate to mesothelioma, caused through asbestos exposure. These fatalities alongside Covid-19 related deaths, are excluded from the HSE fatal accident statistics.

We may indeed view the future workplace in bright and positive terms, but the health of the nation’s past and present workforce remains, to a large degree, mired in a legacy of past occupational exposure.