Are UK Health and Safety Statistics Leading to Complacency?

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Are UK Health and Safety Statistics Leading to Complacency

We’ve seen a plateauing in UK worker fatality rates (as reported by the HSE) over the past 4 to 5 years. This plateau at, or just under, 0.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers follows a long term downward trend and is to be applauded. Or, is it?

Of course, we would all agree that any fatality is one too many and the industry as a whole is working hard to ensure everyone gets home safely at night, but the rate is down from 2.5 per 100,000 in the early eighties providing solid evidence of improved safety practices.

Further, the UK is outperforming other EU countries from a health and safety standpoint. After Finland, the UK has the lowest ‘standardised incidence rates of fatal injuries at work’ of all member states. The link above examines this cross-EU statistical comparison in detail and explains ‘standardised incidence rates’ concluding that it is “considerably flawed”.

Two examples, illustrate this perfectly:

  1. UK workers who die in road accidents in the course of their daily work are not included in the UK fatality rates but are included in every other EU country (except Ireland). The standardised rate attempts to exclude these fatality types but results in higher standardised rates where the exclusion is incomplete. These types of fatalities are very high in number with the UK recording over 500 deaths from work related driving in 2016 alone.
  2. When is a death counted as work-related? As an example, in the Netherlands a workplace fatality is only recorded if the worker dies on the day of the accident. Other countries have different time limits making comparison difficult at best.

Even in the UK, getting to the bottom of what is really going on is not easy. Not that anyone its trying to obfuscate reality, but it takes some digging to isolate trends in specific sectors, say.

The headline fatality counts and rates (e.g. 144 and 0.45 per 100,000 workers in 2017/18, respectively) cover all sectors, ages, gender, as well as employees and the self-employed. The industry sector groupings are very broad making it difficult to identify the performance of individual, recognisable industries.

We analysed the deeper data set provided by the HSE to get back to recognisable industry groups such as power utilities, water utilities, petrochemicals etc. to see what the data tells us for those industries. We also wanted to get to the actual numbers for the ‘management of facilities¹’ sector (broadly SIC codes 77-82 but still not an exact science) to see how the day-to-day maintenance of our buildings and land compares with other, theoretically, more dangerous sectors.

For this deeper data set, we looked at fatalities over the past 4 years, i.e. across the statistical plateau. (Just as a side note, we’ll come back to injury rates in a future post).

This chart highlights those industries with better/worse fatality records than the overall industry average rate of 0.44. The broad ‘management of facilities’ sector is performing better than the average but not as well as the petrochemical industry, which I think we’d all agree is inherently more dangerous. Further, the data set is clearly influenced by the high fatality rates from agriculture, mining and waste collection. What happens when we take those 3 industries out of the data set?

The overall industry average rate drops to 0.32 per 100,000 workers but our traditional ‘management of facilities’ sector is now performing worse than the average of all industries (less the 3 we excluded).

Is this important? We think so, yes. Traditional maintenance of buildings should have a far lower fatality rate than other, more dangerous sectors such as petrochem. To ignore these stats would be complacency. Remember also that the data presented is for the past 4 years, not just an isolated year where outlier events may skew the data.

So, what has led to this outcome? Has the rigorous approach to safety of the petrochemical industry just not been applied in the less dangerous ‘management of facilities’ space? Whatever label we apply, 26 workers died maintaining buildings and land in the past 4 years, none died producing petrochemicals.

It’s not ‘how’ people died, it’s ‘why’ and when the ‘why’ boils down to a worker using dangerous equipment they’re no longer certified to use then that is wholly avoidable…


¹We’re using the term ‘management of facilities’ rather than facilities management (FM) as the intent is to analyse the activity not the category of FM companies.

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