HSE fatalities report ‘misleading’ on health dangers says GMB

Numbers of workplace fatalities for the past year released from HSE today present a ‘misleading picture’ as it excludes data on work-related suicide and occupational disease, say union GMB.

In total, 137 workers were killed at work in 2016/17, the second lowest year on record after 2013/14 says HSE’s report Fatal injuries arising from accidents at work in Great Britain: Headline results 2016/17 published on 5 July.

HSE analyses the figures to say that while there is a fall, in statistical terms, fatalities have remained broadly level in recent years. The average annual number of workers killed at work over the five years 2012/13-2016/17 is 142.

But Dan Shears, GMB Health and Safety Director, criticised the report for failing to focus on the totality of the health dangers at work today. "In an economy moving from industrial manufacture to service provision, it remains shocking that 137 died at work.”

He said the figures should have included deaths due to industrial disease, work-related suicide, and also deaths on road, rail, air and sea.

"It gives a misleading picture of the true 'burden' of health and safety failings on our society,” he said.

HSE’s report breaks down the data on fatalities so they can be read in a variety of ways; for rates of fatal injury, the absolute count, and also by sector, the accident kind and the workers’ age and sex.

Significant findings are for risks to self-employed workers. This is a group that is more vulnerable because they lack workplace protections offered to their employee colleagues, as recent campaigns have highlighted.

Over a quarter of all fatal injuries were to self-employed workers both for 2016/17 and the five year average 2012/13-2016/17 (see below chart). The fatal injury rate for the self-employed is more than double that for employees, it says.

 

These self-employed workers were in agriculture, construction but also in manufacturing, wholesale/retail; accommodation and food services.  

HSE’s report does not include the estimated 13,000 deaths from occupational diseases it says because these are hard to trace. Apart from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, occupational deaths ‘usually have to be estimated rather than counted’.

The 2016/17 figures are provisional and will be finalised in July 2018 to take account of any necessary adjustments.

Shears added that the statistics needed to better reflect the power of regulations and enforcement. 

"The recent disaster at Grenfell Tower shows the consequences of deregulation, and this government and future governments must ensure that our regulations are protected, strengthened, and proactively enforced, so that next years' statistics reflect genuine progress and protection of workers.

"No-one ever died from too much regulation, but the human cost of 'cutting red tape' remains intolerable."