On 30 June the HSE released its provisional statistics covering fatal workplace accidents between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2008.

228 workers were fatally injured in 2007/08, which corresponds to a rate of 0.75 fatalities per 100,000 workers. The figure is in line with the average for the last five years, 230, although the HSE admits that because it is a count of the number of occurrences of an event that happens rarely, comparing fatality figures from one year to the next has its difficulties. The size of the count is determined not only by possible changes in the risk of work conditions but also by the important effect of chance variation.

Of the five industry groups represented, agriculture features the highest rate of fatalities, with 9.1 per 100,000 workers (39 in total). Extraction and utility supply follows, with 5.1 per 100,000 (9 in total), with construction next at 3.4 (72 in total). The services industry accounted for 74 of the 228 worker fatalities in 2007/08, the highest number of the five industries, but at a fatality rate of just 0.3. This reflects the fact that services takes in by far the most workers of the five industries, at around 24 million.

In total, there were 587 workplace fatal injuries, with 359 members of the public dying in addition to 228 workers. Of these members of the public, the vast majority (263) died as a result of suicide or trespass on the railway.

Although there has been a marked downward trend in the number and rate of fatal injuries on a long-term basis, the improvement seems to have stalled in the last six years. As mentioned above, the figure for 2007/08 is in line with the average over the past five years and the rate (0.75) is only marginally lower than the five-year average of 0.78. Despite the dramatic reduction in workplace fatalities since the introduction of HASWA in 1974, the number and rate of fatalities having fallen by 73% and 76% respectively, research sponsored by the HSE and others suggests about a quarter of the reduction over the last 10 years can be put down to the move away from manufacturing and heavy industry to relatively low risk service industries, and the downward trend appears to have almost entirely levelled off in the last few years.

Against this backdrop, it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of what might be termed “initiatives” aimed at keeping workplace health and safety high on the public and corporate agenda have come to the fore in recent times. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 finally came into force earlier this year, a few months after revised guidance to directors on health and safety leadership was published by the IOD and HSC. The Health and Safety (Offences) Bill, one of whose provisions would empower the courts to imprison directors and employees for health and safety offences, continues to make its quiet way through Parliament, although whether or not it will become law remains uncertain

[We will provide a more detailed analysis of the finalised statistics for 2007/08 when they are released in October.]