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October 2019

Pic: John MarshJohn Marsh, Chairperson

This month the HSE published its annual report and the statistics once again show that too many people are being killed, injured or suffering from work-related illness. The statistics compiled from the Labour Force Survey illustrates that the numbers are still too high and, in some cases, increasing. Last year 141 workers were killed at work and this year that figure had risen to 147, the highest in the last 5 years, which the HSE say this increase maybe due to a “natural variation on the figures”.

What that means I am not quite sure, but what is clear to me is that over the past 5 years on average 142 people a year are killed at work, statistics that no-one should be proud of.  However, in response to the report, Martin Temple, HSE Chair, said: “Great Britain’s position as one of the safest places to work should be a point of pride for us all, but these figures show there is still much to be done to ensure workers go home both healthy and safe”.

I totally agree that there is still so much more that employers need to do to ensure their workplaces are safe and healthy but how can we be proud of the fact that there has been no significant improvement over the last 5 years!

Statistics are a strange beast and trying to understand how they have been compiled can be a challenge, when they are presented in a format that paints a rosier picture than the real truth. If we look at this year’s statistics, it is only when you start to examine the report in detail that you discover the headline figures do not represent the true picture.

The report states in the headline that there were 147 fatal injuries at work but what it does not include is the thousands of people who die each year from lung cancer linked to past exposure to asbestos. In 2017 it was estimated that 2,526 people died from Mesothelioma and a similar number of lung deaths from exposure to asbestos.

The Labour Force Survey reports that on average over the last 3 years 18,000 new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work each year. On closer inspection when you look at the age profile of the 147 fatalities, 25% (37) were to workers aged 60 or over, even though they made up around 10% of the workforce.

Workers aged 60-64 had a fatality rate almost twice as high as all age rates and workers 65 and over had a fatality rate of more than four times as high. When you consider that many workers are having to work longer before they can claim their pensions and the government wanting to raise the retirement age even higher, then this statistic is one that maybe even more significant when next year’s report is published.     

Within the report it also states that 92 members of the public were killed due to work related activities but what is not clear is exactly how this figure has been calculated and the circumstances on how they were killed and what specific work activities resulted in their death. The report states that there are 1.4 million working people suffering from work related illness but what is not clear is how many people committed suicide at work or because of work and why are they not included in these statistics.

The other problem that a lot of the safety community have is with the non-inclusion of work related road traffic fatalities within the statistics as some believe that if a delivery driver falls asleep at the wheel and is killed in a crash then why is it not included in the statistics when it is in theory, their place of work. 

Despite Great Britain being quoted as one of the safest places to work the estimated economic cost to the country totalled £15 billion in 2017/2018. What is clear in the report is that over the past 5 years there have been no significant improvements in preventing fatalities, injuries and ill-health and only highlights the scale of the challenges that we have has safety reps in making our workplaces healthier and safer to work in.

Maybe next year the HSE might consider calling their annual report the ‘Déjà vu Report’ because I am sure the message from the HSE’s findings will be the same one I used to get when I was at school many moons ago - “must try harder!”. 

Until next time, stay safe.

You can download the HSE statistics from the E-Library here

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