Workplace deaths figure may be skewed by drop in workload and jobs

Figures showing that workplace fatalities have dropped during the recession may be skewed by the past year’s reduction in workload and jobs, the health watchdog has warned.

There were 180 workplace fatalities in 2008-09, 22% lower than the average 231 deaths a year for the past five years, data released by the Office of National Statistics yesterday revealed.

The 180 deaths last year represent 0.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. During 2007-08, there were 233 deaths.

The greatest number of fatalities was in the construction industry, where there were 53 deaths last year. However, the agricultural industry had the greatest number of deaths per 100,000 workers, with 29 fatalities – a rate of 5.7 deaths per 100,000.

But Judith Hackett, chair of the Health and Safety Executive, told Personnel Today employers must be cautious about the figures.

She said: “It’s good news that we have seen such a drop – hopefully it’s a sign of a move in the right direction. But it’s certainly possible that the reduction in activity level as a result of the recession could explain some of the drop.

“Employers shouldn’t be complacent, and coming out of the recession, when activity will increase, is the time to really focus on health and safety.”

Steve Pointer, head of health and safety policy at the construction employers body EEF, added: “The figures for manufacturing are very much as we anticipated. Fears of an increase in fatal accidents due to corner-cutting in the recession are not borne-out in these figures.

“Over the years, the manufacturing industry has greatly reduced the number and rate of fatal injuries, but we must not be complacent.”

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