Fatalities at work fall to record low, but HSE warns against complacency

The number of people killed at work in the UK last year declined to a record low, although the number of fatalities in agriculture increased, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The HSE’s newly released annual data has revealed that 151 workers were killed between 1 April 2009 and 31 March this year, compared to 178 deaths in the previous year.

Judith Hackitt, HSE chair, said that although the reduction in workplace deaths was encouraging, the fall in fatalities may have been partly due to lower activity in some sectors of the economy during the recession.

She said: “Being one of the best health and safety performers in the world means continuing to strive to drive these numbers down further, not getting complacent about what we’ve collectively achieved, and recognising the new challenges as we emerge from the recession.”

“As with all health and safety statistics, today’s announcement is a combination of encouraging news about improvement, but also a salutary reminder of the tragedies of lives lost at work.”

Agriculture remains the most dangerous industry in the UK, with 38 workers dying on farms over the past year, up from 25 deaths in 2008-09.

Hackitt admitted the HSE was “especially concerned” to see the continuing high levels of fatalities in agriculture.

“The fact that many of these lives have been lost in family businesses is a double tragedy,” she said. “Not only have families been ripped apart, but businesses that have been handed down through generations have been ruined.”

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said politicians and the media should focus on preventing such deaths, rather than talking about health and safety regulations being a burden.

“None of these deaths were a result of over-regulation or risk aversion,” he added. “In most cases they were caused by basic health and safety precautions not being taken.”

Madge Moore, England director at Lantra, the Sector Skills Council for environmental and land-based industries, who also sits on the agriculture industry advisory committee of the HSE, said it supported a call by the National Farmers Union for a “farming safety summit”.

“Farmers work in a hazardous environment and with hazardous materials – everything from livestock to dangerous chemicals,” Moore said. “The right training and skills can help people work safely in this sector.”

Figures underestimated?

Public sector union Unison has suggested that the HSE has “grossly underestimated” the real figures for workplace-related fatalites. It estimates that 1,600 deaths are caused by work-related incidents each year – more than 10 times the HSE figure of 151.

Hope Daley, Unison’s head of health and safety, said: “These statistics do not include deaths to members of the public, work-related suicide and road traffic accidents while driving for work.
“The death toll at work is truly horrific, and now is not the time for the government to relax health and safety laws. We need to clamp down on employers that do not follow regulations or report non-fatal accidents.”

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