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HSE Annual Statistics 2020–2021

Both injury rates and prosecutions are falling but fatal accidents are rising. We look at the facts and figures.

The HSE has released its annual health and safety statistics for 2020/2021. In summary these figures show:

  • 142 workers were killed at work which represents a significant increase from 111 in 2019/20
  • 441,000 workers sustained non-fatal injuries compared with 693,000 in 2019/20
  • 185 cases were prosecuted which is a significant decrease from 325 cases in 2019/20
  • 2,929 enforcement notices were issued representing less than half of the 7,7075 notices served in 2019/2020.

The story behind the figures

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world of work with significant periods of time where businesses have been closed or forced to find new ways to operate to achieve compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. It is difficult to ascertain whether this has directly contributed to the steep decrease seen in the overall number of workers who are being injured at work.

Drilling down into the figures, it is evident that slips, trips and falls continue to account for a high proportion of these injuries, with lifting, carrying and being struck by moving objects also being a common cause.  Furthermore, it is clear that it is not just the overall number of workplace incidents that is declining, but also the number of more serious cases which require reporting under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations. In 2020/2021 there were 51,211 reports, down from 65,427 reports made in 2019/20.

It is also hard to reconcile why the number of non-fatal incidents had dropped so markedly, which could perhaps be attributed to more people working from home, and yet the number of fatal workplace incidents has increased significantly. These figures serve as a stark reminder to employers of the importance of continual improvement in safety at work and of looking at new ways of using technology to help drive towards the ultimate goal of zero fatal incidents. That said, the UK has only fallen slightly behind Germany in terms of being one of the safest EU countries to work in.  

The direct impact of COVID-19

Interestingly, the HSE has included figures concerning the numbers of workers impacted by COVID-19, with 93,000 workers attributing having caught the virus to exposure at work. A further 645,000 workers have said that they have suffered from a work-related illness which has been caused or made worse by the effects of the pandemic. The majority of such workers operate within the health and social care sectors and in public administration and defence with stress, depression and anxiety accounting for 70% of such illnesses, evidencing the strain directly felt by the workers at the sharp end of the fight to control the virus.


The decrease in the number of cases resulting in a health and safety conviction comes as no surprise bearing in mind that the numbers have been falling year on year.

The pandemic has accelerated the decrease to only 185 cases in 2020/2021, compared with around 650 cases in 2015/2016. Health and safety cases are not the most straightforward of cases to investigate and prosecute and where there is a trial in the Crown Court a jury is required. This means that the criminal court system which is already under tremendous strain must try to accommodate lengthy jury trials whilst observing the requirements for social distancing and dealing with higher levels of staff absences.

It is noteworthy that these figures do not take into account prosecutions by local authorities for safety related offences and they also do not show whether there has been an increase or decrease in the number of Notifications of Contravention issued by the HSE. Such Notifications allow the HSE to directly (and more easily) recover their costs of dealing with material breaches of health and safety legislation without the need to commence a lengthy investigation and embark upon a prosecution.

For further information access the HSE’s 2020/2021 statistics report.

If you need further guidance about any matters relating to health and safety, contact our health and safety lawyers.

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