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Fatal injuries at work in Britain at a record low

24 June 2009

The number of people killed at work in Britain has fallen to a record low. New figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that fatalities are down from 233 (2007/8) to 180 (2008/9).

Provisional data shows that 180 workers were killed between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2009 – a rate of 0.6 per 100,000 employees – down from 233 in 2007/08 and 17 per cent lower than the previous lowest total of 217, recorded in 2005/6.

Judith Hackitt, the HSE Chair, said: "We very much welcome any reduction in the number of workers being fatally injured and the fact that the number for 2008/09 is a record low. “There is inevitably variation in the figures year on year, but we can take heart from the fact that Great Britain consistently has fewer fatal injuries than comparable industrialised nations in the rest of Europe. This statistical snapshot needs careful analysis to help us to understand underlying factors, including the impact of the recession. Statistics on fatal injuries do not give us the whole picture. Work-related ill health is a significant problem and accounts for four times more working days lost than workplace injury, so there is still a major challenge we all face to prevent death, injury and ill health in all of our workplaces. The number and proportion of workers being killed in the workplace is likely to reduce in an economic downturn. But we also know from the past that the number and the rate of fatal injuries increase when trading conditions pick up.

"These statistics are encouraging but there is no magic wand in health and safety. When those running organisations show personal leadership, and when workers are involved in tackling the risks that they face, safety can be improved and lives saved – that is how we can turn this encouraging sign into real sustained improvement."

Sizeable falls have been recorded in some of the historically most dangerous industries in Britain.
.. 26 fatal injuries to agricultural workers were recorded – a rate of 5.7 per 100,000 workers – a big reduction in the 46 recorded in 2007/08 and the latest five year average (40)
..53 fatal injuries to construction workers were recorded – a rate of 2.4 per 100,000 workers – a significant fall from the 72 recorded in 2007/08 and average number of fatalities (70) for the previous five years
..63 fatal injuries to services workers were recorded, a rate of 0.3 per 100,000, and a fall from the figure for 2007/08 (73) and the latest five year average (76)
..32 fatal injuries to manufacturing workers were recorded, a rate of 1.1 per 100,000, representing a slight fall from 2007/08 (33) and the average for the previous five years (37)

The new figures show that compared with the latest data available for the four other leading industrial nations in Europe – Germany, France, Spain and Italy – Great Britain has over the last five years had the lowest rate of fatal injuries.

Construction sector
More detail on the construction sector statistics show that in the construction sector between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2009 some 53 workers were killed at work in 2008/09, a fall of 26 per cent on 2007/08 when 72 workers died. The rate of fatal injuries in the sector was 2.4 per 100,000 workers, making it one of the most dangerous industries in which to work.

The average rate of fatal injury in construction over the last five years has been 3.4. In each of the last five years, the number of fatal injuries has been:
 2007/08 – 72 workers died
 2006/07 – 79 workers died
 2005/06 – 60 workers died
 2004/05 – 69 workers died
 2003/04 – 71 workers died

The provisional worker figure for 2008/09 consists of 33 deaths to employees and 20 deaths to self employed people. Four members of the public were also killed in accidents connected to work in the sector in 2008/09

Philip White is the Health and Safety Executive's Chief Inspector of Construction. He said: “"We very much welcome any reduction in the number of construction workers being fatally injured. But the fact that 53 construction workers failed to come home from their jobs last year because of avoidable safety failings is a terrible tragedy, not a cause for celebration. We all owe it to the workers who have lost their lives to continue to take an uncompromising approach to workplace safety. It is too soon to say that this is part of an acceleration of the long-term downward trend or to pin point any single reason why the number of fatalities has fallen. Clearly we are in the midst of a recession, but it would be too simple to just chalk the fall up to current challenging trading conditions facing the industry. We know from evidence of past downturns that when the period of economic recovery comes it generally sees an increase in the rate and number of workers losing their lives. I don't want to be talking in 12 months time about a tragic rise in the number of people who have been killed simply doing their job.”

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