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Fatalities up, reported non-fatalities down in latest HSE accidents figures

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Provisional statistics for the year 2000/01 indicate an increase of 34 per cent increase in fatalities among Britain’s workers, with 295 deaths compared to 220 in 1999/2000. This represents an increase in the rate of fatal injuries from 0.8 to 1.1 per 100,000 workers.

Over the same period, the provisional number of reported non-fatal major injuries to workers has fallen by 4.7 per cent from 29,315 to 27,935 – with the employee rate falling by 5.4 per cent, to 110.3 per 100,000 employees. The provisional number of reported over-three-day injuries to workers has fallen by 1.7 per cent from 136,113 to 133,813 – with the employee rate falling by 2.4 per cent to 537.8 per 100,000 employees.

The figures show that of the 295 fatalities, 106 occurred in the construction industry and 46 in agriculture. In terms of types of fatality, 73 deaths were caused by falls from heights, 64 from moving vehicles, 52 from falling and moving objects, and 37 by objects collapsing or overturning.

Commenting on the figures, Health and Safety Commission (HSC) Chairman Bill Callaghan said, “We are greatly concerned at the increase in fatalities during 2000/01 – which goes against the downward trend of recent years – and are taking firm action to encourage sustainable improvement. Last year the Deputy Prime Minister and I set national improvement targets for health and safety at work. Building on this, the HSC has already targeted the HSE’s work programme for the next three years to tackle the main causes of fatalities and the worst-offending sectors of industry. We have identified the priorities correctly – and action is now needed.

“The fact remains that most of these fatalities were preventable. Every work-related death is one too many and each represents a personal tragedy. The primary responsibility for the health and safety of workers remains with employers. There is absolutely no excuse for them to ignore their fundamental duty to take all reasonable steps to safeguard workers’ lives.

“Every organisation needs to put health and safety at the head of its agenda. Responsibility starts at the top – in the Board Room and with the Chair or Chief Executive. Last week the HSC issued guidance on directors’ responsibilities, which sets out the standards we expect in both the private and public sectors.”

Mr Callaghan continued, “Of particular note is the construction industry, where on average there are two deaths every week – and the fatality rate of six per every 100,000 workers is now the highest for 10 years. Because of this, the Deputy Prime Minister and I held a summit with the industry and stakeholders are now committed to taking positive steps to bring down this unacceptable toll. I very much hope that the action promised at the summit will now begin to feed through and drive down casualties. I will be looking closely to see what progress is being made and will be reviewing the situation at the Working Well Together conference in October.”

Commenting on the continuing downward trend in reported major and over-three-day injuries across most sectors – including construction, agriculture and manufacturing – Mr Callaghan said, “It is good to see that non-fatal injury rates continue to decline, but I do not see this as a cause for complacency. In particular, I am concerned by the possibility that this may indicate – at least in part – an increase in under-reporting, something we will be taking a close look at. Employers must fulfil their legal obligation to inform the relevant enforcing authority of all reportable health and safety incidents.”

The HSE has commissioned research which will look very closely at the contributing causes to this year’s upturn in fatalities, as well as those for the reduction in reported non-fatal injuries.

The 2000/2001 provisional statistics are subject to final adjustments and the final figures will be confirmed in the HSC’s annual report and statistics, which will be published in October 2001.

Commenting on the HSE’s statistics on workplace deaths today, TUC General Secretary John Monks said, “These numbers should wipe away any trace of complacency in Britain’s boardrooms. Last week we heard about British bosses paying themselves huge bonuses, this week we hear about the price that workers pay in injuries, illness and ultimately death.

“Britain’s bosses need to take responsibility for this alarming rise in the toll of deaths at work. The action planned for construction, where the Deputy Prime Minister had to read the riot act to employers earlier this year, is clearly desperately needed. But the figures for farming and manufacturing are no better. The need for a new Health and Safety Act to revitalise health and safety, with more Inspectors for the HSE and a new law against corporate killing, couldn’t be starker.

“Unions will do what we can, and it’s more noticeable than ever before that workplaces with safety reps and a partnership between the managers and the union have accident rates half those of workplaces without unions. People at work deserve protection from death and disease, and employers should drop their ideological objections to the roving safety reps who could solve so many problems and protect so many lives.”

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