UK Incident Statistics: Are we really making a difference?
At a time when the HSE is being actively forced by the government to become a commercial entity (even though industry already pays for their services via corporate taxes), with parts of it being privatised and driven into consultancy (e.g. HSE Labs), it is pertinent to look at UK plc’s safety performance over the past 20 years. Occupational incident statistics from 1995/96 to 2013/14 show little statistically significant reductions for the most serious injuries. Using statistical process control techniques on the data obtained from the HSE website, it is evident over the past 20 years that:
- Fatalities have begun to show statistically significant reductions only in the past 3 years.
- The number of severe injuries is only just returning to the lowest levels recorded since 1995/96. However recent reductions may simply be a statistical artefact due to the changes in the classification of major injuries in RIDDOR, resulting in an estimated 10% less reports.
- Temporary disabilities (over 3 days) have reduced at a much faster rate (55%) than fatalities (36%). Severe injuries are still up 6% on the 1995/96 figures.
- Reductions in temporary disabilities have levelled off over the past two years, the first time the downward trend has been arrested since 2003/4. This is likely related to the changes in RIDDOR recording from over 3 days off to 7 days or more off, and the incorporation of injuries that previously were classified as major.
- The numbers of fatalities, severe injuries, and temporary disabilities have all coincidently reduced since 2007/8, at the same time as the unemployment rate has risen. This suggests that a large part of the reduction is related to the number of people in work, rather than a direct result of our combined efforts; as unemployment reduces, the number of injuries is likely to rise again.
Note I am deliberately talking about the numbers of incidents, not incident rates: I am deeply concerned that we have experienced an average of 200 fatalities, 26,600 severe injuries, and 113,000 temporary disabilities per year over the past 20 years. This equates to almost 4 deaths, 512 people being seriously maimed in some way, and 2200 temporary disabilities each and every week. In addition to the substantial costs to industry, the negative economic and psychological impact this has on the families of those killed and injured is also significant[i]: We are potentially talking about families spiralling into poverty and depending on welfare as a result of reduced employment opportunities and/or reduced incomes[ii].
We need to be doing something different. If we keep doing the same things we are going to keep getting the same type of results. The current emphasis on eliminating HSE regulations and forcing the HSE to become a commercial enterprise is not the answer: we still have huge problems to solve that are just too great for that to be a viable strategy. We need a commercial-free HSE to help us find the answers based on hard scientific data, but we are not likely to get one now the wheels have been set in motion. Perhaps the safety profession will now have to seek out its own opportunities to make the difference, without any further reliance on the HSE. Regardless, the safety profession must focus its efforts at reducing these serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs), not just targeting the precursors of minor injuries in the hope that the more serious injuries will also be controlled[iii].
What do you think?
[i] Health and Safety Executive (2006). Identifying and evaluating the social and psychological impact of workplace accidents and ill-health incidents on employees. RESEARCH REPORT 464: HSE Books; Sudbury.
[ii] Mazzolini, G (2013). The economic consequences of accidents at work. Retrieved from https://editorialexpress.com/cgi-bin/conference/download.cgi?db_name=res_phd_2013&paper_id=180
[iii] Cooper, M.D. (2014). Identifying, Controlling and Eliminating Serious Injury and Fatalities. In: Heather Beach (Ed). Beyond Compliance: Innovative Leadership in Health and Safety. SHP: Retrieved from: https://www.shponline.co.uk/shp-online-ebook/?cid=searchresult