Health and Safety Statistics  

Statistics, do they tell the true story? What do they mean for you?
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Written by Stewart Barker
January 19, 2024

Introduction 

Health and safety statistics can be a valuable resource to anyone and everyone in an organisation.  Likewise, statistics such as those produced by the HSE in November 2023 provoke thought and response across all industry sectors and stakeholders at all levels. 

Whilst it’s important to note that statistics are vital, they might not always provide the full picture and tell the true story.  Statistics used with a deeper understanding of application to a particular workplace environment make a better-informed decision to determine a useful direction to drive improvements in health and safety. 

Any successful health and safety professional will always assess information in the right context – “What does this mean to me?”.  Let’s take a look at some of the headline statistics 

  • 135 workers killed in work-related accidents 
  • 0.6 million workers sustained a workplace non-fatal injury  
  • 60,645 injuries to employees reported under RIDDOR by employers
  • 875,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety 
  • 473,000 cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorder
  • 1.8 million cases of work-related illness, of which are: 
    • 35.2 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury
    • £20.7 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions

How does this compare? 

Long-term data reveals a significant decrease in fatal injuries among employees. There’s also been a considerable reduction in non-fatal injuries. Preceding the coronavirus pandemic, self-reported non-fatal injuries among workers consistently declined, with the current rate resembling the 2018/19 pre-coronavirus levels. Similarly, concerning RIDDOR-reported injuries, employer-reported non-fatal injuries indicated a downward trend pre-pandemic, and the present rate remains lower than the 2018/19 pre-coronavirus figures. 

An outlier in the trend within the construction sector exists, though. Known for having the highest recorded fatalities, the construction sector witnessed a marked rise in fatalities, soaring from 29 to 45. Should a spike in this statistic cause us undue concern?  Further intensifying concerns, the five-year average for fatal injuries in construction stands at 37, indicating that this year’s figure isn’t just surpassing last year’s count but also exceeding the established norm. 

The frequency of overall self-reported work-related ill health, encompassing both new and enduring cases, has declined from the levels observed in the 1990s. However, it has stabilised in recent years leading up to the coronavirus pandemic. Similarly, the rate of self-reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders has decreased since the 1990s, although it continued to demonstrate a consistent decline in the years immediately preceding the pandemic. Conversely, the rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression, or anxiety had exhibited signs of escalation in the years before the coronavirus pandemic, having remained relatively stable since around 1998/99. 

During 2022/23, the frequency of self-reported work-related illnesses exceeded the pre-coronavirus level observed in 2018/19, largely driven by increased reports of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. In contrast, the incidence of self-reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2022/23 closely resembled the levels reported before the coronavirus outbreak in 2018/19. 

The yearly count of mesothelioma deaths has remained fairly consistent over the last ten years following an extended rise since 1970, predominantly linked to previous exposures. There is an expectation that these numbers will decline throughout the 2020s. 

In a broad overview, it could be suggested that the sustained decrease in work-related injuries could be attributed to several factors: 

  1. Clear Identification of Potential Risks: The increased ease in recognizing and relating to potential workplace hazards, coupled with the availability of straightforward and well-known solutions to manage these risks, has contributed significantly to injury reduction. 
  1. Enhanced Awareness and Prevention: There’s a notably higher standard of awareness regarding injury prevention at work compared to previous periods. This improved consciousness has led to proactive measures being implemented to prevent accidents. 
  1. Improved Health and Safety Knowledge: Over the years, the workforce has undergone enhanced training, resulting in higher health and safety knowledge. This knowledge enrichment has played a crucial role in minimizing workplace risks. 
  1. Generational Shift and Attitude Change: With the transition of older, more traditional workforce members who might have been resistant to change, newer generations are stepping in. The incoming workforce is more engaged, better informed about health and safety practices, and more inclined to implement these arrangements for their benefit. 

These factors collectively indicate a positive shift in workplace safety culture, marked by increased awareness, improved knowledge, and a willingness to adopt and implement health and safety measures among the workforce. 

Whilst there has been an overall improvement in recent years regarding incident reduction, the question should be what we will focus on to continue achieving marginal gains. 

What should we focus on? 

At Shoal, we ask ourselves where our focal point should be in consideration of the statistics and their trends. 

Whilst all stakeholders share the common aim to ensure people go home healthy and safe, the motivations to achieve this may come from different metrics.  We believe improving health and safety standards suggests organisational arrangements are broadly suitably developed, available and implemented.  So, is it the behavioural engagement of workers followed by improved monitoring and reviewing of their suitability that presents the best opportunity to continue to improve? Developing workforce engagement to cultivate the right behaviours may be the key to breaking through any approaching plateau. 

Carrot v Stick 

The legitimate recognition by organisations to create and implement suitable and sufficient health and safety arrangements has improved.  Organisations now realise the benefits of their own success in managing health and safety properly.  The role of our enforcing authority should not be forgotten as it still provides the direction for avoidance of contravention. 

The HSE’s 2022/23 annual report stated that approximately 86% of investigations into fatal incidents were completed within 12 months, surpassing the 80% target. Additionally, 95% of investigations into non-fatal incidents met the 12-month completion goal, exceeding the 90% target. The HSE conducted over 16,800 inspections, including 2,348 inspections of construction sites, as part of a planned campaign. Enforcement actions included issuing over 8,000 notices, and more than £14 million in investigatory costs were recouped through the ‘Fee for Intervention’ scheme. 

Regarding prosecutions, the HSE concluded 216 cases of health and safety breaches, a decrease from 290 cases in 2021/22, maintaining a robust 94% conviction rate. The decline in prosecutions since 2016 can be attributed to introducing a sentencing guideline for health and safety prosecutions in February 2016, which has extended the duration of prosecutions. The HSE affirms its commitment to prosecuting cases with sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and when it aligns with the public interest.  

Final Thoughts 

The combination of an anticipated improvement plateau, recognition of success over recent decades and the endeavour required for marginal gains could equate to a recipe for disaster.  It’s not unreasonable to foresee a creep in complacency and an increase in undesired events.   

At Shoal, we aim to support organisations in avoiding any potential complacency by continuing to provide health and safety solutions collaboratively. 

“Changing how our partners view the world of health and safety, delivering solutions together, ensuring everyone goes home healthy and safe.” 

About the Author

Stewart Barker, is an expert Health, Safety, and Fire Professional, boasting technical expertise across the design, construction, and operational phases of organisations and projects.