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  • Lee Calver
  • 4 November 2014
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Is your country the safest place to work?

Britain is one of the safest places to work, but more must be done

Last week, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published new figures showing that Britain continues to be one of the safest places to work in Europe, but warned that too many workers are still being injured or made ill by work.

 Health and safety systems obviously differ across the world in terms of recording, reporting and enforcement. The European statistical office (Eurostat) publishes data in as standardised a form as possible and records available on Eurostat show that UK performance is favourable compared to other EU countries, with relatively low rates of work-related fatalities, injuries and ill health.

The UK consistently has one of the lowest rates of fatal injury across the EU. In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the standardised rate of work-related fatal injury excluding traffic accidents, was 0.74 per 100,000 workers in the UK, which compares favourably with other large economies such as France (2.74 per 100,000 workers), Germany (0.94 per 100,000 workers), Italy (1.5 per 100,000 workers) and Spain (2.16 per 100,000 workers). In fact, the UK was the third lowest in the EU.

Looking at other comparisons, in 2007, 1.8% of UK workers reported an injury occurring at work that resulted in sick leave, whereas in Germany it was 1.9% of workers, in Italy it was 2.3%, Spain 3.1% and the EU-27 average was 2.2%.

In the same year, Eurostat data revealed that 2.9% of UK workers reported a work-related illness resulting in sick leave. This is lower than Germany (3.9%), Spain (4.2%), Poland (11.8%) and the overall EU-27 rate (5.5%). 

While the most recent available figures date back to 2007, it is still interesting to see how the UK compares to other countries. In 2013, a similar study was conducted and the new data will be available from the Eurostat website by June 2015. 

Is it safe to work in your country? 

European surveys in recent years show that the majority of UK workers are confident that their job does not put their health or safety at risk. Additionally, UK businesses are more likely to have a health and safety policy, and to follow this up with a formal risk assessment, compared to other EU countries. 

The 2010 European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) found that 18% of UK workers believe that their job risks their health and safety. This is one of the lowest proportions in the EU, and is positive in comparisons to the EU-27 rate of around 24%. While Italy (18%) and Germany (19%) have similar rates to the UK, more workers in France (25%) and Spain (33%) believe that their health and safety is at risk because of their job. 

Outside of Europe 

A focus on improving health and safety in the workplace is paramount across the globe, and in recent weeks it has been reported that the rate of fatal workplace injuries in the US is 25% lower than it was in 2006. The Bureau of Labour Statistics also revealed that it's been trending downward for the past two decades now. 

In 1993 there were five fatal workplace injuries per 100,000 full-time workers; there were 4.2 in 2006, and in 2013 there were 3.2 per 100,000 – nearly 60% lower than in 1993. 

Meanwhile in Singapore, according to the latest Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Statistics Report from January to June 2014 released by the WSH Institute, workplace injuries and fatalities rose in the first half of 2014, increasing by 14% and 20% respectively, compared to the same period in 2013. 

The report revealed that 30 workers were killed at their workplace in the first half of 2014, up from 25 during the same period last year, while major injuries increased to 279, from 273 in 2013. 

Dr Gan Siok Lin, Executive Director of the WSH Institute, stated: 

“There has been a marked increase in workplace injuries for the first half of 2014 as compared to last year. We hope that the industry will make use of the report to find out the common causes of these injuries, and take preventive measures now to review their workplace safety and health systems and address areas which may have been neglected.” 

Latest HSE findings for the UK 

The HSE’s latest injury and ill-health statistics revealed that in the UK, an estimated 28.2 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health or injury in 2013/14. Consequently, the cost to society from such injuries and new cases of ill health due to incorrect working conditions is an estimated £14.2bn (2012/13 figures based on 2012 prices).

It also revealed that in 2013/14, there were 133 fatal injuries – a fall from 150 the previous year. Of these, 106 were in England, 20 were in Scotland and seven in Wales. Yorkshire and the Humber was the region with the highest number of fatal injuries, totalling 17. The North East had the lowest number with six. The report publicised that 77,593 other injuries were reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR), which equates to 304.6 injuries per 100,000 employees.

Furthermore, an estimated two million people in 2013/14 were suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by current or past work.

Following the publication of the results, Judith Hackitt, the Chair of HSE, said:

“These latest figures remind us what health and safety is really about. We should remind ourselves what these numbers actually mean – the number of times in the last year someone went out to work and either did not return home to their loved ones or came home with life changing injuries.

“The health numbers also demonstrate the scale of harm being done to people’s health while at work, too often leading to premature death.”

She continued:

“Jobsworths using ‘elf n safety as a convenient excuse for all manner of things, and those claiming health and safety is a burden, need to reflect on this. Britain has one of the best health and safety systems in the world, but that is cold comfort to those who have suffered loss or suffering that is so easily avoided with sensible and proportionate risk management.”

Judith added:

“We all need to commit to focusing on what really matters – ensuring more people return home from work every day and enjoy long and healthy working lives.” 

Is your industry dangerous?

The study also looked at the industries in which workers are most likely to be injured by their jobs, revealing the results have not changed significantly from previous years.

Manufacturing was the industry with the most major or specified injuries (3,159), while construction (1,900), waste and recycling (486) and agriculture (292) also had high numbers.

Construction

The rate of injury in the construction industry fell slightly in 2013/14 compared with 2012/13. 

The rate of injury among construction employees was 412.4 per 100,000 in 2013/14, down from 422.0 per 100,000 the previous year, including fatalities, major injuries and over seven-day injuries. 

HSE Head of Construction sector, Philip White, said: 

“Another decrease in the rate of injuries in construction is clearly welcome, but I would urge the industry to avoid any feeling that it is ‘job done’. 

“Construction remains one of Britain’s most dangerous sectors and initial analysis of the level of enforcement action in HSE’s recent refurbishment campaign confirms that there are still far too many poorly managed risks on sites around the country. Disappointingly, most of these risks are well known and have straightforward precautions.” 

Waste and recycling sector

While the number of reported injuries to waste and recycling workers fell to 486 in 2013/14 compared to 528 the previous year, the injury rate (injuries per 100,000 employees) for the sector is still “much higher” than in the agriculture and construction sectors.

Rick Brunt, Head of HSE’s Waste and Recycling sector, described the decrease in injuries in the industry as a “further step in the right direction”, but also stated:

“Nonetheless I would urge the industry to avoid complacency and recognise there is still a long way to go. As a priority sector for HSE we will continue to work with the industry to address the poor safety record to further reduce the toll of death and injury.

“Everyone involved in the industry has a responsibility to focus their efforts on reducing the number of incidents, and making sure that people working in the industry go home safely at the end of the day, and the shocking number of unnecessary deaths and injuries is tackled.”

Increasing death toll from occupational cancers

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has raised its concerns after a big rise in the number of deaths from mesothelioma was highlighted by the HSE’s latest statistics.

In 2012, there were 2,535 deaths from the disease – most of them caused by past occupational exposure to asbestos, the HSE revealed, up from 2,311 in 2011.

IOSH warned that occupational cancers are currently among the biggest issues in the workplace, with Research and Information Services Manager, Jane White, commenting:

“It is not right that people are contracting and dying from mesothelioma and other diseases while at work. We are very concerned about the high number of people dying from mesothelioma and that people are still being exposed today. More should be done to tackle this and all other cancers caused by workplace exposures.”

White went on to say:

“While much of this is down to failures in preventing asbestos exposure in the past, we want to see better education for businesses small and large to ensure such avoidable exposures do not happen again.”

No Time to Lose campaign

Since the publication of the HSE’s injury and ill health statistics, IOSH has launched an industry-wide campaign to cut the number of deaths from occupational cancer.

According to conservative estimates, some 8,000 people die from cancer and around 14,000 contract the disease each year in the UK because of exposure to a work-related carcinogen, such as diesel exhaust fumes, silica dust or asbestos fibres. Worldwide, occupational cancer claims the lives of more than 666,000 a year – one death every 47 seconds. 

Led by IOSH and backed by business leaders, academics and charity Macmillan Cancer Support, the No Time to Lose campaign calls for a collaboration of Government and employers “to beat occupational cancer”. 

A national database of work-related carcinogen exposure, more research into the potential cancer risks of new technologies, a greater focus on work cancer in medical courses and awareness training for apprentices are all part of the call to action.  

IOSH has also published new guidance for employers to help them identify and deal with cancer risks and urges businesses to sign a pledge demonstrating their commitment to controlling carcinogenic exposures in their workplaces. 

Commenting ahead of the launch, which took place at Westminster in London yesterday, IOSH Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Richard Jones, said: 

“We need a concerted joint effort to educate and protect future generations from work-related cancer. Simple actions today will save lives tomorrow – there really is no time to lose in tackling this global tragedy.”