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Workplace fatalities creeping up again!

Solicitors in London

Workplace fatalities creeping up again!

News article published on: 18th July 2019

This month the government released the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report, ‘Workplace fatal injuries in Great Britain in 2019’. It makes for grim reading.

Despite stringent Health and Safety Regulations for UK workplaces, a total of 147 workers were killed while at their place of work during the period of April 2018 to March 2019. This number represents a fatal injury rate of 0.45 deaths per 100,000 workers.  

An additional 92 members of the public were killed in workplaces in the same period, of which 32 deaths occurred on railways and 23 deaths happened within the Health and Social Work Sector. The tragic total number of deaths in the workplace during the recording year is 230: 147 workers plus 92 members of the public.

Worker deaths

The most dangerous sector in which to work is the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Industry, accounting for 32 of the 147 worker deaths. Construction accounts for 30 fatalities, Manufacturing for 26 deaths and the remaining fatalities fall into a variety of categories including Transport, Waste and Retail.

Causes of death were sadly quite predictable: 40 were due to falls from a height and 60 died due to injury from moving machinery, vehicles or objects. 11 were killed after being trapped by something collapsing or overturning.  95% of all people who died at their place of work were men.

Older workers at greater risk of workplace death

The breakdown of fatalities according to age may surprise some. The statistics show that while 73% of the workers killed were aged 16-59, 25% were aged over 60. This figure is surprising because older workers comprise only 10% of the workforce. Indeed, the report draws attention to the higher risk for older workers, stating that, ‘the rate of fatal injury increases with age, with workers aged 60-64 having a rate around twice as high […] and workers aged 65 and over […] four times as high’ as the younger workers.[1]

HSE Chair Martin Temple said, ‘…. the release of workplace fatality statistics is a reminder that […] we cannot become complacent as we seek to fulfil our mission in preventing injury, ill health and death at work. […] Agriculture, forestry and fishing accounts for a small fraction of the workforce of Great Britain yet accounted for over 20% of worker fatalities.’[2] According to the HSE’s own statistics, we can add the over-representation of older workers to the unacceptable death toll.

Deaths excluded from the statistics

While the HSE report yields worrying numbers of deaths, it does not give a complete picture. There are certain types of work-related injury that are excluded from the HSE report. These include

  • Workers killed in road traffic accidents;
  • Workers killed while travelling by air or sea;
  • Fatalities of armed forces while on duty;
  • Fatal injuries at work due to natural causes including heart attacks, unless these causes were brought on by trauma due to the accident;
  • Occupational diseases such as lung cancer caused by asbestos.

The workplace death statistics from Northern Ireland are also excluded from the data.

HSE and the Law

Accidents by their nature are preventable and no one goes to work expecting to die. We know through our work, every death due to an accident at a workplace, has a deeply personal cost to loved ones as well as a broad social cost to society. So how does the law protect workers?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a legal duty on employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees and members of the public who are in a workplace. The HSE is responsible for the enforcement of workplace health and safety regulations. Employers must take steps to reduce any risks to health and safety and must provide training, safe systems of work and personal protection.

If an accident at work results in death, the HSE (often in conjunction with the police) will investigate. If it is determined that the death occurred due to a failure of the employer’s duty of care, it may be determined that an offence was committed, and charges of gross negligence manslaughter could be brought against individuals, and a range of offences by companies, including corporate manslaughter, can also be considered.

Sentencing guidelines and compensation

In 2016, the Sentencing Guidelines Council focused on health and safety offences in the workplace. In addition to fines, which are commensurate with turnover, the Council recommended that individuals convicted of gross negligence manslaughter should face up to 18 years in prison.

In addition to seeing justice done through the courts, a victim’s loved ones may be entitled to receive monetary compensation.

Most employers are required to carry liability insurance, which provides insurance against compensation claims if someone is killed or injured in the workplace. While financial compensation will not bring back a loved one, it can go some way to alleviate the burden of funeral expenses and to cover the uncertainty of future lost income.

It is so hard to take in the fact that people are still dying as a result of workplace accidents, but fatality rates are slowly creeping up again in recent years.  Funding cuts for the HSE has not helped.

[1] http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/pdf/fatalinjuries.pdf

[2] https://www.eastmidlandsbusinesslink.co.uk/mag/news/hse-releases-annual-workplace-fatality-figures-2/

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