HSE releases annual workplace fatality figures for 2020/21
A total of 142 workers were killed at work in Great Britain in 2020/21, according to data released by the HSE; an increase of 29 from the previous year, though the number of deaths in 2019/20 (113) was low compared to other recent years.
In statistical terms the number of fatalities has remained broadly level in recent years – the average annual number of workers killed at work over the five years from 2016/17 to 2020/21 is 136.
Over the past 20 years there has been a long-term reduction in the number of workplace fatalities, demonstrating that Great Britain is one of the safest places to work in the world.
The figures released by the HSE relate to workplace incidents. They do not include deaths arising from occupational exposure to disease, including COVID-19.
HSE’s Chief Executive, Sarah Albon, said:
“Whilst the working world in which we now live has created new health challenges for workers and for those who have a duty towards them, safety must also remain a priority. Whilst the picture has improved considerably over the longer term and Great Britain is one of the safest places to work in the world, every loss of life is a tragedy. We are committed to ensuring that workplaces are as safe as they can be and that employers are held to account and take their obligations seriously.”
However, health and safety body IOSH believes the impact of COVID-19 shouldn’t be underestimated, stating:
“Increases in fatalities are very concerning, but we must also remember that lockdown restrictions in 2019-2020 may have be a contributing factor to the previous year’s record low figures rather than improved risk management and prevention in the workplace.
“All 142 deaths last year were avoidable tragedies which will have left devastated families and friends having to come to terms with their loss. No one should have their life cut short by work, or through others’ work activities, which is why we must continue to reduce this number further through good health and safety management practices.
“Workplace deaths are only ever the tip of an iceberg of health and safety failure, which is why we encourage employers to ensure that they are managing the safety and health risks in their workplaces. This includes any new risks that may be presented through new operating models, new technology or equipment, and so on.”
The three most common causes of fatal injuries continue to be workers falling from height (35), being struck by a moving vehicle (25) and being struck by a moving object (17), accounting for more than half of fatalities in 2020/21.
These figures also continue to highlight the risks to older workers with around 30% of fatal injuries in 2020/21 involving workers aged 60 or over, even though such workers only make up around 11% of the workforce.
In addition, members of the public continue to be killed in connection with work-related incidents. In 2020/21, 60 members of the public were killed as a result of a work-related incident.
The figures for Mesothelioma, which is a cancer contracted through past exposure to asbestos and is one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly, show 2,369 people died in Great Britain in 2019. This is 7% lower than the average of 2,540 deaths over the previous seven years.
Mesothelioma develops from the thin layer of tissue that covers many of the internal organs. The most common area affected is the lining of the lungs and chest wall. Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, as the tiny fibres can easily get in the lungs, where they get stuck, damaging the lungs over time. It usually takes a while for this to cause any obvious problems, with mesothelioma typically developing more than 20 years after exposure to asbestos.
Current mesothelioma deaths largely reflect occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before the 1980s. The figure for 2019 is consistent with projections that a reduction in total annual deaths would start to become apparent at this point. However, it is still not certain how quickly annual deaths will decline.
A fuller assessment of work-related ill health and injuries, drawing on HSE’s full range of data sources, will be provided as part of the annual Health and Safety Statistics release on 16 December 2021.