To give this some context, we have looked at big picture health and safety, with a review of both the global information being published, as well as that of our closer neighbours in Europe.

So, what are the trends telling us about where we currently stand and what’s needed to keep us at the top of our game, indeed if that is where we still are?

What does the Global picture for work related health and safety look like?

Released in September 2021, a joint World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) publication on “work-related disease and injury”, estimates globally 1.9 million people died, as a result of these causes, in 2016.

Of these, non-communicable diseases were the most significant factor, accounting for 81% of all deaths. The remaining 19% of deaths were attributed to occupational injuries. In terms of the non-communicable diseases leading to fatalities, the three major causes were identified as:

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (450,000 deaths);
  • Stroke (400,000 deaths); and
  • Ischaemic Heart Disease (350,000 deaths).

By way of comparison, the total for occupational injuries was 360,000 deaths.
In announcing the report’s publication, the press release accompanying the document highlights:

“The study considers 19 occupational risk factors, including exposure to long working hours and workplace exposure to air pollution, asthmagens, carcinogens, ergonomic risk factors, and noise. The key risk was exposure to long working hours – linked to approximately 750,000 deaths. Workplace exposure to air pollution (particulate matter, gases and fumes) was responsible for 450,000 deaths.”

Encouragingly the report concludes that “globally, work-related deaths per population fell by 14 per cent between 2000 and 2016. This may reflect improvements in workplace health and safety”. However, it also indicated “deaths from heart disease and stroke associated with exposure to long working hours rose by 41 and 19 per cent respectively. This reflects an increasing trend in this relatively new and psychosocial occupational risk factor.”

A link to the report can be found at - WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury, 2000–2016

What does the European picture for fatal and non-fatal, work related accidents look like?

Data extracted by Eurostat in 2020, provides both aggregated and member state (EU 27) information on work-related fatal and non-fatal accidents over 2018.

The article finds there were, 3,332 fatal accidents and 3.1 million non-fatal accidents (resulting in at least four calendar days of absence from work) across the EU27, providing “a ratio of approximately 940 non-fatal accidents for every fatal accident.”

And, unlike the global trend found by the WHO/ILO in 2016 (see above), both figures showed and increase on the 2017 outcomes, with:

  • 8,137 more non-fatal accidents at work recorded (up by 0.3 %); and
  • 60 additional fatal accidents at work (up by 1.8 %).

Fatal accidents in member states were also compared against standardised employee numbers, with the EU average fatal accidents per 100,000 employees being 1.7 in 2018. These figures do vary widely between jurisdictions though with:

  • Netherlands (0.6), Germany (0.78), Greece (0.97) and Finland (0.99), all having average fatal accidents below 1 per 100,000 employees;
  • Sweden (1.01), Ireland (1.51) and Belgium (1.91), averaging between 1 and 2 fatal accidents per 100,000 employees;
  • Italy (2.25), France (2.74) and Austria (2.87) over 3 fatal accidents per 100,000 employees; and
  • Luxembourg and Romania, at 4.22 and 4.33 fatal accidents per 100,000 employees respectively, the worst performers.

The UK’s fatal accidents per 100,000 employees rate of 0.78 remains amongst the lowest in Europe.

Another factor highlighted in the statistics was that at 68.4% more than two out of every three non-fatal accidents at work involved men. The article goes on to qualify this finding by explaining the “factors that influence these statistics are:

  • the proportion of men and women who are in employment;
  • the different types of work that men and women carry out;
  • the activities in which they work; and
  • the amount of time spent at work.

For example, there are far more accidents in the mining, manufacturing or construction sectors, which tend to be male-dominated. It is also generally the case that men tend to work on a full-time basis, whereas women are more likely to work on a part-time basis; as such, with women spending a shorter period of time (on average) in the workplace this may also reduce their chances of having an accident.”

The link to the article is - Accidents at work statistics - Statistics Explained (europa.eu)

What are the trends in Great Britain?

Each year in Great Britain the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publish their “Health and safety at work - Summary statistics for Great Britain”, with the last full report covering the year 2020. Headline findings include:Each year in Great Britain the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publish their “Health and safety at work - Summary statistics for Great Britain”, with the last full report covering the year 2020. Headline findings include:

  • 142 workers killed at work (2020/21 figures);
  • 65,427 injuries to employees reported under RIDDOR;
  • 693,000 working people sustain an injury at work according to the Labour Force Survey; and
  • 1.6 million working people suffering from a work-related illness.

In total, work related illness and injury led to a loss of 38.8 million working days at an estimated cost of £16.2 billion (2018/19 figure).

Since the 1970s, where, for example, the average number of fatal injuries at work resulted in between 500 and 600 deaths per annum, the figures have been falling. The figures over the last decade has though plateaued out and remained relatively consistent, averaging at 142. The only significant deviation from this was in 2019/2020, when due to the work restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic the figure dropped to 111.

The most common cause of fatal accidents has also remained predictable over recent times with the HSE identifying “falls from a height, being struck by a moving vehicle and being struck by a moving object, between them accounting for over half of all fatal accidents to workers in 2020/21.” In terms of numbers of fatal accidents by type in 2020/21, the HSE report:

  • Falls from a height 35
  • Being struck by a moving vehicle 25
  • Being struck by a moving object 17
  • Trapped by something collapsing/overturning 14
  • Contact with moving machinery 14

Against this, 60 members of the public were also killed as a result of work related accidents in 2020/21.

By sector, construction (39) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (34) continue to account for over half the recorded fatalities during the assessed period, with manufacturing (20) the third highest. Although when accounting for the levels of employment in each sector, the rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers is greatest in agriculture, forestry and fishing, followed by the waste and recycling industry. Both these sectors have a significantly higher rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers than any of the other sectors assessed.By sector, construction (39) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (34) continue to account for over half the recorded fatalities during the assessed period, with manufacturing (20) the third highest. Although when accounting for the levels of employment in each sector, the rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers is greatest in agriculture, forestry and fishing, followed by the waste and recycling industry. Both these sectors have a significantly higher rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers than any of the other sectors assessed.

For non-fatal injuries the last two decades have again seen overall reductions in the numbers of incidence we are seeing, with estimates in the region of 4,000 non-fatal accidents per 100,000 workers (all sectors) in 2001/2, decreasing to less than 3,000 in 2019/20.

The most common causes of non-fatal injuries reported by employers during the assessed period were:

  • Slips, trips or falls on same level 29%
  • Handling, lifting or carrying 19%
  • Struck by moving object 11%
  • Acts of violence   9%
  • Falls from a height   8% 

One area where we are not seeing reductions in the overall rates however is work related ill health and this is particularly associated with stress, depression and anxiety.

Both in terms of self-reported work-related ill health and working days lost as consequence of this the recorded rates have remained “broadly flat in recent years, although 2019/20 is above recent rates.”

While we have seen a gradual decrease in the numbers of new and long-standing musculoskeletal disorders being reported per 100,000 employees since 2001/02, work related stress, depression and anxiety has seen a recent steep rise.

Politically, geographically, economically and organisationally, the provision of health and safety around the World varies considerably. In Great Britain, we have established a reputation for World leading health and safety, and that hasn’t happened by accident. Even so, there are still challenges to be met and improvements to be made.

As we continue to recover from the global pandemic, there are a number of factors we need to be considering to make sure our health and safety remains both suitable and sufficient, and fit for purpose to our organisations, these should include:

  • How has the change in workstyle impacted/going to impact your health and safety provision and how are you looking to mitigate and manage this?
  • Do you need to re assess your supply chain? With pressure on skills and employment currently, are you contractors and supply chain still able to deliver you the goods and services you need when you need them?
  • What is your current provision for mental health first-aid and its broader management? Do you need to adapt your current practices to reflect changes in your work practices?
  • Have you reviewed your overarching health and safety policy and procedures, and are they relevant to your organisation now?
  • With increased stakeholder pressure likely from both a health safety, wellbeing and environmental perspective, how prepared are you to answer any questions they have and with what evidence?
  • Have you reviewed and updated your organisational risk registers to account for any changes over the last eighteen months and if so, what are you new priorities and how are you going to fulfil them?

Assurity Consulting is the UK’s leading independent consultancy specialising in workplace health, safety and environmental solutions. As your partner in compliance management you will reap the benefit of our more than 30 years’ experience of helping customers across a range of different sectors – manage their compliance responsibilities as effectively as possible. If you need any help with your health, safety or environmental compliance, or if you would like more information on the services Assurity Consulting offer, please get in touch.

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