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Experts

Workplace fatalities remain uninfluenced by the pandemic

38% of fatalities involved self-employed workers despite this sector making up only 16% of the workforce overall.

Headlines and commentary

On 7 July the HSE published the annual statistics for workplace fatalities from April 2020 up to and including March 2021.

They reveal a fatal accident rate of 0.43 per 100,000 workers (142 deaths) – a figure comparable with the average over the previous five years. These statistics do not include fatal diseases, including deaths due to Covid-19, which are linked to employment (408).

Whilst the underlying trend of fatalities has been downward since 1988 (which had a rate of 2.4 deaths per 100,000 workers), the curve has flattened over the last decade.

Despite the millions working from home in part or in full during the pandemic and organisations’ heavy use of furlough and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which has supported 11.5 million jobs, this has had little or no impact on workplace fatalities.

Whilst this appears ostensibly surprising, the sectors in which last year’s fatalities arose (and which were also comparable with previous years) revealed that agriculture, forestry and fishing, waste and recycling and construction were heavily represented, sectors largely, if not wholly, uninfluenced by furlough or home working.

Summary

  • 142 fatalities occurred with the greatest number seen in construction (39) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (34).
  • Workers over 60 years were disproportionally impacted with 41 fatalities and a fatal accident rate of between twice and four times the average.
  • In terms of gender bias, a staggering 97% of fatal accidents occurred to males.
  • The five most frequently occurring types of fatal accidents were; fall from height, struck by moving vehicle, struck by moving object, trapped by something collapsing and contact with moving machinery. This spread is essentially on a par with the five-year average.
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing had the highest fatal injury rate with 11.3 fatalities per 100,000 workers and 20 times the average across all industries. This was followed by waste and recycling (fatal accident rate of 2.57 and 17 times higher).
  • 38% of fatalities involved self-employed workers despite this sector making up only 16% of the workforce overall. This figure has risen from the 31% seen in 2019/2020.

Conclusions

Whilst the headline number of fatalities has increased last year compared to 2019/2020, both the number and fatal accident rates seen in 2020/2021 remain in keeping with the five-year average.

Whilst any workplace fatality is tragic, we should be mindful of the context. Firstly, the UK has one of the lowest rates of fatal accidents in Europe – only bettered by Germany, Finland, Malta and Ireland according to 2018 statistics. Secondly, deaths due to mesothelioma – a cancer which develops following historical exposure to asbestos dust and fibres - have remained over the last decade at 2,500 deaths per annum, a figure 20 times last year’s workplace fatalities.

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