The HSE has released new figures confirming that Britain has the lowest rate of work-related deaths in Europe and one of the lowest levels of occupational ill health, but there are fears that this record may not be sustainable in the face of cuts to the regulator’s budget.
Following the release of provisional statistics for 2009/10 in June, the new figures confirm that 152 people were killed at work – the lowest level on record, and down 15 per cent on last year’s total of 179, which was the previous low. The number of deaths corresponds to a rate of 0.5 per 100,000 workers, compared with an EU average rate of 2.1 per 100,000 workers.
Of the main industrial sectors, construction and agriculture recorded the most fatalities, with 42 and 38 deaths, respectively.
Major injuries decreased by 6.5 per cent – from 27,894 in 2008/09 to 26,061 last year. Over-three-day (OTD) injuries went down from 105,261 to 95,369 – a drop of 9.5 per cent. However, the number of people suffering from an illness caused, or made worse by their work went up from 1.2 million to 1.3 million, while a further 800,000 former workers claimed they are still suffering from a work-related illness.
Musculoskeletal disorders and stress again topped the list of reported illness types, while the most common accident types behind major and OTD injuries were slips and trips, handling/lifting/carrying, and falls from height.
Overall, since 2000, the rate of reported fatal and major injury to employees has fallen by 13 per cent, while the number of working days lost per worker has decreased by 30 per cent. In 2009/10, the estimated total number of days lost due to work-related ill health and injuries amounted to just under 6 million.
Commenting on the figures, HSE chair Judith Hackitt said: “It is encouraging to see further reduction in the number of people being killed and seriously injured at work. We now need to ensure that the improvements that are being made continue. Every statistic represents an individual or a family that is now suffering as a result of health and safety failings at work.
“Britain remains one of the safest places to work in the EU, and we are rightly proud of this record. The challenge now is to focus on those areas where improvement is slow to emerge.”€ﾨ
However, other stakeholders expressed reservations about how the improvements can be sustained, given the recently announced 35-per-cent cut in the HSE’s budget. IOSH’s policy and technical director, Richard Jones, said the key to making sure the figures don’t rise next year is to maintain the resources the regulator currently has to do this.
He added: “Cuts to the HSE don’t just risk livelihoods, they risk the lives of the people we are trying to protect. And if inspectors are forced off the front line to complete the paperwork that a declining admin staff would previously have done, we could potentially see a hockey-stick effect, where death and injury rates increase once more.
“The UK workforce needs a properly resourced HSE and effective workplace management for these downward trends to continue.”
The TUC’s Brendan Barber said the budget cut is “likely to make the situation worse, with less guidance, fewer inspections and less enforcement across the board. This will mean higher illness rates, more days lost through sickness absence and, most importantly, more workers killed, injured, or made ill as a result of their work.”
The HSE did not want to comment while the exact nature of the cost cuts has yet to be determined, other than to say that: “The DWP has said that in seeking to achieve savings of at least 35 per cent over the SR10 period, we will share more of the costs with those businesses who create the risks, while reducing burdens on low-risk businesses. The [HSE] Board will be advising further on how this might be achieved.”
The statistics also reveal that some of the “low-risk” workplaces defined by Lord Young in his review (e.g. shops, offices and schools) as requiring less rigorous health and safety assessment are among the worst performers, in terms of illness and injury rates last year.
The ‘health/social work’ and ‘public administration’ sectors, and the ‘professional’ and ‘personal service’ occupations had the highest rates of illness, with the ‘personal service’ and ‘elementary’ occupations having statistically significantly higher rates of both injury and ill health compared with all occupations.
Moreover, statistics released last month for the first quarter of this year (April to June) show that of a total of 54 fatalities, 22 were recorded in the services sector.
Emphasising that Lord Young’s proposals are about reducing bureaucracy, a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said the figures vindicate the peer’s belief that “form-filling and bureaucracy hasn’t made anyone any safer”.
He continued: “Lord Young is advocating common sense – employers still have a duty to ensure their workplaces are safe. He is not suggesting that employers don’t pay any attention to health and safety – just that form-filling and bureaucracy are not necessarily the best way.”
The full statistics report for 2009/10 can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/statistics
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