The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show a drop in the number of workplace deaths, most likely due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) during the last two months of the economic year.
The provisional annual data for work-related fatal accidents as well as deaths from the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, revealed that 111 workers were fatally injured at work between April 2019 and March 2020 (a rate of 0.34 deaths per 100,000 workers), the lowest year on record.
However, in line with previous years’ fatal injury statistics, these figures do not include deaths from occupational disease. Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection is therefore not included and will not feature in fatal injury statistics in subsequent years, although the HSE has indicated that it will publish separate data about deaths associated with the pandemic at a later date.
The report also makes clear that although there has been a long-term reduction in the number of annual fatalities (they have almost halved in the last 20 years), the number has remained broadly level more recently.
Equally, however, the figures vary from sector to sector, with the highest number in the construction industry, followed by the agricultural, forestry and fishing sectors. Despite accounting for only a small fraction of the workforce in Great Britain, these sectors accounted for about a fifth of fatalities in the last year.
The figures also revealed that the three most common causes of fatal injuries arose from workers falling from height (29), being struck by a moving vehicle (20) and being struck by a moving object (18).
Mesothelioma, which is contracted through past exposure to asbestos and is one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly, killed 2,446 in Great Britain in 2018. This is slightly lower than the average 2,550 over the previous five years. The current figures are largely a consequence of occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before 1980. Annual mesothelioma deaths are expected to fall below current levels after 2020.
Diagnoses for cancers such as mesothelioma have also dropped significantly during the lockdown, with many avoiding their GPs and hospitals. However, as Andrew Venn, national practice lead for asbestos at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “No one wants a diagnosis of asbestos-related disease, but if that is a risk knowing is better than not. If diagnosed early, getting access to specialist treatment is much more likely and earlier knowledge also increases the chances that legal support can deliver compensation.
“We fear that delays in referrals and hesitation about visiting a GP during the pandemic, while understandable, could see fewer people making the link between their illness and exposure at work and it will be the families of those who become ill, not the employers who exposed them, that will face the financial consequences”.
The HSE will publish a fuller assessment of work-related ill-health and injuries as part of its annual Health and Safety Statistics release in early November.
To read the full release by the HSE, go to: https://press.hse.gov.uk/2020/07/01/hse-releases-annual-workplace-fatality-figures-for-2019-20/
To read Thompsons advice on mesothelioma in full, go to: https://www.thompsons.law/news/news-releases/cancer-diagnosis-lag-could-limit-access-to-justice-for-people-with-asbestos-warns-law-firm; and