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Dominic Cooper PhD is an independent researcher who has authored many books, articles and scientific research papers on safety culture, behavioural-safety and leadership.
March 15, 2016

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Wake up Britain: We are being too complacent about our safety performance

alarm-clock-590383_640In my SHP Online blog (UK Incident Statistics: Are we really making a difference?), I wrote that fatality reduction had begun to show statistically significant reductions only in the past three years, as determined by Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts. I suggested any downward trends in serious injuries and fatalities since 2007/8 was due in large part to the number of people in work, rather than a direct result of our combined efforts in the safety profession to improve safety: as unemployment reduces, the number of injuries is likely to rise again.

This is exactly what is happening. Unemployment rates dropped in 2014/15, while the latest provisional data released by HSE shows 142 worker fatalities between April 2014 and March 2015, compared to 136 in the previous year (a 4 per cent increase). A similar increase is also likely to be reflected in the number of severe injuries, when that data are released later in the year. In other words, as a profession we are simply treading water: We are not making the difference we want.

Both HSE and IOSH rightly lament that one death is too many, but then go on to put a positive spin on things. Judith Hackett states “the trend continues to be one of improvement” and that we are much safer as a country compared with many other industrialised nations. IOSH mirrors such sentiments by stating “The wave of positive change towards better safety, health and wellbeing at work is growing”. Such statements lead everyone by-the-nose to be complacent. If we don’t explicitly recognise we have a problem with people dying and being seriously injured at work, we are not going to improve the current situation.

The figures in the SPC chart below, obtained from the HSE website, show the actual numbers of fatalities since 1994/95 to date. The recent HSE press release states we have “halved the number of injuries in the past 20 years”. This is simply not true. In 1994/95 there were 191 deaths. With 142 last year, we have reduced the number of deaths by only 26 per cent.


IOSH highlights that 142 deaths is less than the 155 average deaths for the past five years: this is much too short a timeframe to make any meaningful comparisons. We need to look at the long-term data to make valid statistical comparisons, not just focus on the past five years; the greater the sample size the more robust the inferences. Until such time as we consistently breach the third lowest control limit, it is difficult to claim we really are making a difference. The SPC chart shows we are a long way from doing so, and that we in the British safety profession are not making the difference we believe we are.

The recent HSE press release states “all workplace fatalities drive the HSE to develop even more effective interventions to reduce death, injury and ill health.” Although that’s debatable, this does highlight an urgent need to focus on identifying what we need to do to reduce the number of fatalities. In my view, all UK safety professionals and bodies (i.e. HSE, IOSH, BSC, RoSPA, etc.,) need to actively and explicitly focus on encouraging companies to identify, control, and eliminate potential Serious Injuries and Fatalities (SIFs)[1].

The HSE also needs to raise its game by increasing the number of HSE inspections, as well as automatically prosecuting senior managers, company directors/owners for corporate manslaughter, whenever a fatality occurs. In this way, companies may be motivated to address and manage identified hazards and risks they have left for another day. In turn, the potential for a serious injury or fatality will be diminished.

Your thoughts?

[1] Cooper, Dominic (2014). Identifying, Controlling and Eliminating Serious Injury and Fatalities. In Heather Beach (ed.) “Beyond Compliance: Innovative Leadership in Health and Safety”, SHP/UBM, pages 23-

This blog was originally published on SHP Online in July 2015, and was one of our top performing articles.

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