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24 Jul 2018

Staying safe in a risky business

Over recent years, Britain has consistently had one of the lowest rates of fatal injuries to workers, with work-related deaths amongst the lowest of all European countries.

Britain’s numbers compare well against economic peers Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Poland. So, as a nation, we’re proud of our track record and – quite frankly – so we should be.

Recently, the HSE published annual data for work-related fatal injuries to workers in 2017 to March 2018 with – ostensibly – few surprises. Though the numbers are slightly up on last year, the general trend since 1981 has been a steady decline in work-place fatalities, with only occasional bumps on the road.

But when it comes to workplace safety, it’s a mistake to ever kick back and relax. Because there’s a devil in the detail.


Of the 144 workers fatally injured in this time period, 38 of them were in construction. That’s more than a quarter – nearly 26.5 percent, to be exact. So, construction still bears the largest share of fatalities of any UK industry, even though we already know it’s a dangerous business, and there are countless ways to mitigate risk.

Further, the three most common reasons for fatalities (in any industry) are no surprises, either. Workers falling from height (35); being struck by a moving vehicle (26); and being struck by a moving object (23) account for nearly 60 per cent of fatal injuries in 2017/18. So, people are still dying the same way they always have, but needn’t be. The clearest workplace risks remain the clear and present dangers.

A third figure reveals the risk to older workers. Though workers over 60 make up a mere 10 percent of the workforce, they account for 40 percent of fatal injuries in 2017/2018. That is a sobering stat.

What can we take from the HSE figures? First, that because we know our industry is one of the riskiest around, we must exercise ever greater vigilance. Second, that we must never become complacent about the ‘risks we know well’ like working at height and heavy plant. And third – look to your colleagues – be aware of their capabilities and their attitudes to safety.

Though Britain will likely never achieve a clean sheet for workplace fatality, we can all pull in that direction. As Vince Lombardi, former coach of the Green Bay Packers, said: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

And if that excellence could save a handful more lives each year, that would do very nicely.