The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued provisional workplace fatality figures for the 12 months to the end of March, with Covid-19 being stated as a potential factor in the country recording the lowest number of workplace fatalities to date.
In total, there were 111 recorded fatalities between April 2019 and the end of March 2020, down 25 percent from 2018/19 and also 18 percent below the five year rolling average. Falls from height, remained the highest cause of death – with 29 people losing their life, accounting for 26 percent of all workplace fatalities. Other major causes included - being struck by a moving vehicle (18 percent), struck by moving objects (16 percent) and trapped structures/machines collapsing or overturning (13 percent).
The construction sector was notable for being one of the few sectors which recorded an increase in fatalities, with a total of 40 deaths - 30 percent higher than last year’s 31 fatalities and 10 percent above the rolling five year average. It was followed by agriculture (18 percent) and manufacturing (13 percent).
Speaking on the possible impact Covid-19 might have had on this year’s results, the report said: “The 111 fatal injuries in 2019/20 represents a decrease of 38 fatalities from 2018/19 and is the lowest annual number on record. However 2019/20 numbers are potentially affected by impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK economy. While the overall number is statistically significantly lower than recent years, it is likely that the impact of Covid-19 will have contributed to this. Comparing the number of fatal injuries for April-January supports this, showing that while the number of fatal injuries are lower than in recent years, the difference is not statistically significant and can possibly be explained by natural variation in the figures.”
With a fatal injury rate of 0.34 deaths per 100,000 workers, the UK still has one of the lowest rates of fatal injuries when compared with the rest of Europe. Historically, the 111 fatalities represents a reduction of 77 percent from the 495 recorded in 1981 and 49 percent down on the 220 recorded in 1999/2000.
These numbers are potentially more encouraging for the workplace in general that the HSE review suggests, it is hard to see that there was much change in the work place due to Covid-19 until the last two to three weeks of March? However the numbers for February and March do show a sharp decline so.. perhaps there is something to it.
The construction industry numbers remain a disgrace, at least on a relative level, if there is anything to the last quarter effects of Covid-19 then it is even worse. Sadly in spite of all the lip service paid, contractors – especially small to medium size builders – either continue to ignore best practice or dedicate all their safety resources to the tokenism and ‘ass covering’ practice of box ticking and paperwork, rather than creating a practical safety culture, properly planning work at height or lifting work, using the right equipment and openly sharing near miss incidents and live accident/incident investigation findings.
The HSE is a major accomplice in this – if not the main protagonist in that it focuses all its efforts on prosecutions rather than playing a key role in encouraging a truly safe workplace. Once again there is a perfect and long standing example of how this should work in the aviation. It is about time the head of the HSE got some bottle and changed the entire process.