work at height safety harness

Working at height remains leading cause of workplace deaths

Posted on 15th Jul, 2020 | By Lorretta Tatham

Each year, the Health and Safety Executive releases its annual tally of fatal injuries sustained in British workplaces, providing vital data and guidance to help employers reduce the risks in their own workplaces. This year has seen a number of notable trends occurring with the figures, which have likely been at least partially influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a very detailed report, so we’ve summed up some of its key findings below. (Unsurprisingly, it still heavily underlines the importance of working safely at height.)

What are the key findings of the report?

There were 111 people killed in the workplace in 2019/20, according to data collected through RIDDOR. Notably, this marks a drop in 38 fatal injuries from the previous year, and in fact it’s the lowest annual number on record. Since 2015/16, the annual average over the last few years has been 137, so 111 is quite a significant decrease.

The HSE has taken care to note that these statistics can be prone to year-on-year fluctuations, so some variance is to be expected. It’s likely that the Covid-19 pandemic influenced the figures to at least some degree, although it’s difficult to measure the extent of its effect. The HSE has said that partially due to both these factors, the drop in figures might not necessarily be indicative of any dramatic change in overall workplace safety across the UK.

Most industries have recorded a lower death toll than average over the past few years. The exceptions are the construction sector, and administration and support services, both of which have slightly exceeded their average.

Across all industries, the statistics noted:

  • 40 deaths in construction (recent annual average: 37)
  • 20 deaths in agriculture, forestry and fishing (recent annual average: 27)
  • 15 deaths in manufacturing (recent annual average: 20)
  • 11 deaths in transportation and storage (recent annual average: 14)
  • 6 deaths in wholesale, retail, motor repair, hospitality (recent annual average: 9)
  • 5 deaths in waste and recycling (recent annual average: 9)
  • 6 deaths in administrative and support services (recent annual average: 4)

Notable sector trends

As you can see from the figures above, construction remains the UK’s deadliest sector (accounting for nearly a third of workplace deaths) with agriculture, forestry and fishing following closely behind, itself accounting for 20% of worker deaths.

The death rate in the manufacturing sector is towards the lower end of its average established over the last few years, but hasn’t hit record-breaking lows just yet. At the moment, it’s about the same level as it was in 2017/18. Meanwhile, the transportation and storage sector accounts for about 10% of all workplace fatal injuries.

Although agriculture, forestry and fishing recorded the lowest number of fatal injuries this year, there’s also another way of looking at the data, which is to examine the fatal injury rate in terms of the number of fatalities per 100,000 workers employed. In these terms, the year-on-year trends from HSE show that agriculture continues to be one of the sectors with the worst fatal injury rate (alongside waste and recycling). Together, they both have a fatal injury rate about 18 times as high as the average across other industries.


Notable trends in the type of injury

As well as noting the sectors in which the various accidents occurred, it’s also important to understand what type of fatal injuries were sustained, so that appropriate action can be taken to better prevent them in future. 29 fatal injuries were sustained through falls from height, which accounts for about quarter of all deaths throughout the year. Unfortunately, this does not mark a significant improvement from recent years, showing that falls from height remain one of the biggest risks to UK employees today.

What’s more, 15% of the total deaths in 2019/20 were caused by contact with a moving object (including a flying or falling object). Falling objects are another important hazard of working from height, demonstrating that the risks of this kind of work concern not just the person above the ground, but those around and below them too. Being struck by a moving vehicle accounted for just under 20% of workplace deaths for the year – more or less the same as it’s been in recent years.

But of course, these aren’t like any other statistics and numbers, or regular business excesses to be streamlined. Each of these are human lives, commuted to single digits. 111 may not sound like much initially, but that’s 111 people who left for work one day and didn’t come back home. That means that even when their numbers start to decrease, the pressure is still on for employers to continue examining their own procedures, equipment and working environments, ensuring that their workplaces are the safest places that they can be for their employees to work.

One of the most effective ways to cut down on accidents is through regular training and re-training, reducing the likelihood of simple human mistakes that can have deadly consequences. Here at Browns Safety, we run a number of accredited courses by qualified instructors – including our working at height training course, and our harnesses and lanyards course, both of which cover essential topics to ensure that employers and employees alike are taking every step available to ensure workplace safety.

To book your place, feel free to call us on 01282 615517, or use the booking enquiry form on each of our training pages.

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