H&S Statistics – Behind the Headlines

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety StatisticsLeave a Comment

Health and Safety Statistics - Behind the Headlines

In our last post on breaking through the statistical plateau that is health and safety fatality rates in Great Britain, we reflected on the recent headlines that greeted the [provisional] increase in fatalities to 147 in 2018/19 from 141 in 2017/18 and the accompanying rise in fatalities caused by falls from height, 40 from 35.

We took an action to review both increases in light of the past 5 years data to see if the ‘negative leaning’ headlines were justified.

Firstly, the number of fatalities. Obviously it’s not the number of fatalities but the fatality rate that is the best guide to how we’re doing (given we generally have more people working each year). The fatality rate has fallen from around 2.0 per 100,000 workers in the 1980s and plateaued at or around 0.45 over the recent past. So, does the provisional number of 147 fatalities in 2018/19 give cause for concern?

The following table shows actual fatality rates by industry sector for 2014/15 through 2017/18 together with the provisional data for 2018/19. Cells highlighted show higher fatality rates for that year compared to the previous year; green cells show a fall in rate year-on-year.

The rate across all industry sectors has fallen from 0.46 to 0.45 over the period.

The rate across all industry sectors is showing a year-on-year increase over the past two years.

Choose your narrative.

What is for sure, the rate represents a stubborn plateau that is showing no signs of yielding. We’ll update the table once the figures are finalised later this year but that update is unlikely to shift your narrative.

The other headline arising from the 2018/19 provisional data was the dramatic increase in deaths caused by falling from height – 40 of the 147 fatalities in 2018/19, up from 35 (of 141) last year. But, what are the longer term trends? Were the headlines justified?

It’s impossible to look at fatality rates arising from each of the causes of fatalities as we don’t know the number of times workers are, for example, working at height. Therefore, to look at trends we looked at the numbers of fatalities and the percentage arising from each cause.

Highlighted in the table is the number one cause of fatalities – falls from a height. What we can see is that, although there was an increase in 2018/19 over the prior year, the percentage contribution falls from 30% of all fatalities in 2014/15 to 27% in 2018/19 (from 42 fatalities to 40).

Might ‘struck by moving vehicle’ be more of a concern? Again, choose your narrative.

Obviously, one death is one too many. The stats are important but it’s not about the narrative, it’s about breaking through that statistical plateau. Heinrich or Dekker? Why not both? Culture change, for sure. Technology? If that’s what it takes. Whatever it takes…

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