Workplace deaths hit all-time low, but mesothelioma fatalities rise

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The number of people who died at work last year fell to its lowest ever annual level, according to figures released today by HSE.

But data released simultaneously shows that the number of people who died in 2012 from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma rose to 2,535, up by over 10% on 2011’s figures.

The provisional figures sourced from RIDDOR reports show that 133 people died at work between April 2013 and March 2014 – a rate of 0.44 per 100,000 workers. This compares with a five year rolling average of 164 deaths – a rate of 0.56 – and 150 last year.

“The release of the annual statistics always leads to mixed emotions. Sadness for the loss of 133 lives, and sympathy for their families, friends and workmates, but also a sense of encouragement that we continue to make progress in reducing the toll of suffering,” said Judith Hackitt, the chair of HSE.

“While these are only provisional figures, they confirm Britain’s performance in health and safety as world class. For the last eight years we have consistently recorded one of the lowest rates of fatal injuries to workers among the leading industrial nations in Europe.”

HSE’s mesothelioma statistics show that the incurable disease caused the deaths of 2,126 men and 409 women in 2012. Deaths from the cancer are expected to continue rising until around 2020 due to the long latency of the disease and the legacy of past occupational exposure.

The new figures also show there were 27 fatal injuries to workers in agriculture, lower than the average of 33 for the previous five years. The rate of fatal injury in 2013/14 was 8.77, which still makes it the industry with the highest rate of fatal injury in Britain.  

"The high numbers of deaths relating to mesothelioma are a reminder of historically poor standards of workplace health and safety, which decades later are causing thousands of painful, untimely deaths each year,” Hackitt added. “While we now recognise and are better positioned to manage such health risks, these statistics are a stark reminder of the importance of keeping health standards in the workplace on a par with those we apply to safety.”

There were 42 fatal injuries to workers in construction, lower than the five-year average of 46, but a small increase on last year’s figures, which showed 39 people died at work. The latest rate of fatal injury was 1.98 per 100, 000 workers, compared to a five-year average of 2.07.

Construction union UCATT has said the figures should “send a chill” through the industry, warning that it could mark the beginning of a rise in fatalities as work activity begins to pick up following years of stagnation.

The union said inexperienced companies and workers entering the industry, coupled with attacks on HSE, were making the industry more dangerous.

“Each of these deaths was a terrible tragedy where someone’s loved one went to work one day and never came home. Sadly in the vast majority of cases these fatalities could have been easily prevented,” said Steve Murphy, the union’s general secretary.

“The rise in fatalities should send a chill through the industry and it corresponds with a very modest upturn in construction. All the previous evidence shows that as the industry gets busier deaths and accidents increase. These dangers are being exacerbated by the massive cuts that the government has made to HSE’s budget and their continued attack on safety laws and regulations.”

Meanwhile, four workers died while working in the waste and recycling sector, which again is lower than the average count of 7 over the last five years. The latest rate of 3.33 deaths per 100, 000 compares to an average rate of 5.48.

The figures also reveal that Scotland has the highest rate of work-related fatal injuries of the three countries that make up Britain. While there were 106 deaths recorded in England with a corresponding rate of 0.41, and seven in Wales – a rate of 0.52 – there were 20 deaths in Scotland, with a fatal injury rate of 0.78.

Full statistics, covering injuries and ill health, will be released in October.



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