Workplace deaths are down – but it’s “no cause for celebration”
The HSE’s latest provisional workplace fatality figures show that 137 people died at work in 2016/17, the second lowest year on record. But, many key figures across health and safety are speaking out about the “hidden figures” of between 20,000 and 50,000 deaths each year due to past poor working conditions of heart and lung diseases and work cancers. 
Work related suicides are now also thought to be more than 100 per year, and over 2,500 people each year are dying from mesothelioma, with the UK having the highest incidence of disease in the world.
No-one ever died from too much regulation, but the human cost of ‘cutting red tape’ remains intolerable – GMB
The headline figures
- 2015/16 – 147 workers died
- 2014/15 – 142 workers died
- 2013/14 – 136 workers died
- 2012/13 – 150 workers died
- 2011/12 – 171 workers died
Fatalities by sector:
This year the construction and agriculture sectors had the highest number of deaths:
- 30 construction
- 27 agriculture
- 19 manufacturing
- 14 logistics
- 14 waste industry
- 33 Other
Fatalities by accident types:
- Struck by moving vehicle 31
- Falls from a height 25
- Struck by moving object 20
- Trapped by something collapsing/overturning 10
- Contact with moving machinery 8
- Contact with electricity 8
GMB, which has members across every sector of the British economy, said the official workplace death figures hide tens of thousands of related deaths, saying that the figure of 137 is “just the tip of the iceberg” and that every death demands justice and enforcement.
Work-related fatalities are entirely preventable so we must strive to reduce this number further. – IOSH
A fuller assessment of work related ill-health and injuries, drawing on HSE’s full range of data sources, will be provided as part of the annual Health and Safety Statistics release on 1 November 2017.
Comments from across OSH
HSE Chair Martin Temple said: “Every fatality is a tragic event that should not happen. While we are encouraged by this improvement on the previous year, we continue unwaveringly on our mission to prevent injury, death and ill health by protecting people and reducing risks.”
He continued: “As we approach the one-year anniversary of this incident, our thoughts remain with the families of those who died. We continue to fully support West Midlands Police’s investigation.”
Dan Shears, GMB Health and Safety Director, said: “Whilst this is a low figure compared to the plateau of recent years, it is absolutely no cause for celebration.
“Each of these avoidable deaths is a tragic cutting short of a life, and leaves behind devastated family, friends, and colleagues.
“Every one of these deaths deserves full investigation, with enforcement and prosecution where warranted.
“In an economy moving from industrial manufacture to service provision, it remains shocking that 137 died at work – and this figure excludes tens of thousands of deaths due to industrial disease, work-related suicide, and deaths on road, rail, air and sea.
“It gives a misleading picture of the true ‘burden’ of health and safety failings on our society.
“The recent disaster at Grenfell Tower shows the consequences of deregulation, and this government and future governments must ensure that our regulations are protected, strengthened, and proactively enforced, so that next years’ statistics reflect genuine progress and protection of workers.
“No-one ever died from too much regulation, but the human cost of ‘cutting red tape’ remains intolerable.”
Welcoming the fall in workplace deaths, nationwide workplace safety group the Hazards Campaign warned the figure was “dwarfed by the numbers of people dying of work-related illnesses, including at least 5,000 a year who lose their lives to asbestos-related cancers”.
“We estimate that around 50,000 people die each year due to past poor working conditions of heart and lung diseases and work cancers,” the campaign said adding that the “government’s obsession with cutting “red tape” really meant abolition of regulations which protect workers”.
The “Grenfell Tower fire was a publicly visible result of how the Tory bonfire of red tape led to a real-life inferno of people,” Hazards argue, as reported by the Morning Star.
“We call for an end to this deadly deregulation culture now.”
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) welcomed the reduction in deaths, but urged a continued focus on efforts to ensure it is part of a downward trend in work-related fatalities and that work activities in 2017-18 do not endanger lives through poor risk management.
In its new five-year strategy, WORK 2022, one of the Institution’s main aims is to enhance the health and safety profession to ensure it keeps pace with our rapidly-changing world of work.
Shelley Frost, Executive Director of Policy at IOSH, said: “The fact that fewer people are being harmed by work activities shows that employers are recognising the importance of health and safety.
“This is in no small part down to the knowledge, experience and vigilance of health and safety professionals who ensure that risks are managed effectively in workplaces.
“But 137 people were still killed in work-related accidents last year. Work-related fatalities are entirely preventable so we must strive to reduce this number further.
“When we gather with practitioners and policymakers in Singapore for the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in September this year, one of the themes will be ‘Vision Zero’, which aspires to eradicate workplace fatalities.”
The UK currently has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world. This latest figure, the HSE said, reflects widespread exposure to asbestos before 1980, now manifesting as disease in older people.
Ms Frost added: “While organisations recognise safety as a key business value, it is vital that they also control worker exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos.
“We are concerned about the high number of mesothelioma deaths relating to asbestos exposure, which is more than 15 times the number of deaths caused by workplace accidents. It is likely this figure will decline from the start of the next decade but the fact is that deaths are increasing worldwide.
“Through our No Time to Lose occupational cancer campaign, IOSH is determined to see cases of mesothelioma and other cancers relating to exposure to carcinogens at work decline globally.”
Further information on these statistics can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics