Official statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have shown that the number of workers fatally injured in the workplace fell from 172 in April 2011 to March 2012 to 148 last year (April 2012 to March 2013). It must be noted, however, that the HSE makes it very clear in its reporting of these figures that annual fatality statistics shouldn’t be viewed in isolation, but in relation to trends over a number of years. When compared to figures over the past five years the figures appear to be levelling off rather than actually falling. (Note: These figures do not include railway incidents, which would take into account accidents involving members of the public including trespass, suicide, etc.).
In terms of the number of fatal injuries over the past year, the sectors reporting the highest number of fatalities are:
- Construction: there were 44 deaths during the past year in this sector, which is lower than the average figure for the previous five years.
- Agriculture: the figure of 36 deaths from April 2012 to March 2013 is lower than the average over the previous five years.
- Manufacturing: again, the figure was lower than the average over the past five years (21 deaths).
- Waste and recycling: the figure of 13 deaths is higher than the five-year average although the figures are subject to significant fluctuation from year to year.
The overall drop in the number of fatal workplace accidents is something that can be viewed with cautious optimism, although no number of fatal workplace accidents can be viewed as ‘acceptable’ so we should all continue to strive for the complete eradication of fatal accidents in the workplace. From an occupational health perspective, these figures do not include deaths in the workplace due to natural causes, which would be non-reportable under RIDDOR.
Thankfully, workplace fatalities are relatively rare, but employers do have a legislative responsibility to look after the health of workers. Employers may require advice on existing health conditions and how they may be affecting a person’s ability to work, or they may want to find out whether a person’s work duties risk harming their health. The Health for Work Adviceline (0800 0 77 88 44) exists to offer precisely this kind of advice to employers, employees or to GPs who want to find out more about patients’ health conditions and the extent to which they may affect their ability to work.