HSE 2023/24 Fatal Accident Statistics published: why do construction, waste and recycling and agriculture remain the most poorly performing industry sectors?

read time: 6 mins

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released its 2024 Work-related fatal injuries in Great Britain statistics. In this article we explore the headlines statistics, identify the trends and consider what employees should be doing in response. 

The numbers 

138 workers were killed in work-related accidents in 2023/24, being an increase of only 2 from 2022/23. Albeit a marginal increase, this figure continues the recent trend of a broadly flat number of fatalities in recent years.  

As with previous years the construction and agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors continue to account for the greatest number of fatalities, between them accounting for just over half of all fatalities to workers in 2023/24. 

Recognising that construction employs far more workers than in some other industry sectors, it is important to consider also the rate of fatal injury as well as the absolute headline numbers.  

The rate per 100,000 workers shows construction and agriculture, forestry and fishing as two of the three sectors with the worst rate of fatal accidents, with 51 and 23 fatal accidents to workers recorded in 2023/24 respectively. 

Once adjusted, one sees that the rate of fatal injuries is over 3 times higher in agriculture, forestry and fishing than in construction sector. This reflects the fact that the construction sector employs far more workers than agriculture, forestry and fishing.

In fact, the rate of fatal accidents in the waste and recycling centre is also worse than in construction. Although the waste and recycling sector recorded far fewer fatal injuries in 2023/24, four compared with 51 in construction, the rate of fatal injury is approximately 1.5 times higher in waste and recycling than in construction.

Compared with the all industry average, the rates of fatal injury in agriculture is a staggering 21 times higher, 9 times higher in waste and recycling and 5 times higher in construction.

These figures are broadly in line with the average rates over the previous five years, meaning there has been no marked improvement in the incident rate of fatal accidents across all industry sectors, with the construction sector figures in fact showing worsened performance in 2023/24 compared with the five year average.

Age, gender and accident type

Similarly, we see the same patterns as previously reported, with male workers continuing to account for the vast majority of fatalities, with 95% of workers fatally injured in 2023/24 being men. 

Age played a part with a disproportionate 34% of death to workers being over 60

The most common kind of fatal accidents to workers continue to be: 

  • Falls from height
  • Struck by moving vehicle
  • Struck by a moving object

These accidents account for around 70% of fatal injuries. These accidents have consistently accounted for over half of all fatal injuries each year since at least 2001/02. 

Historical context

In statistical terms, the number of fatalities in 2023/24 is broadly in line with the pre-pandemic level, which had an annual average of 142 deaths per year. To put this in context, back in 1981 there were 495 deaths, prior to 1981 only fatal injury numbers to employees were reported to enforcing authorities. 

As ever, statistics can always be interpreted in a number of ways, but it is undisputable that whilst industry has markedly improved since this author was born in 1981, the figures have stubbornly failed to improve in any meaningful way in the last decade.  

Work-related fatal accidents to members of the public

However, when looking at members of the public, a total of 87 members of the public were killed as a result of work-related accidents in 2023/24. This is an increase of 14 fatalities from last year’s 73 deaths. It should be flagged that while the number of fatalities fluctuates each year, the average number of member of the public deaths in the last two years is statistically significantly lower than pre-pandemic period. This period had an annual average of 102 deaths per year to members of the public from 2016/17 – 2018/19. 

When analysing the HSE statistics, it is important to remember that these statistics are those that the relevant enforcing authority has judged as reportable under Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences 2013 (RIDDOR). Certain types of work-related injury are not reportable under RIDDOR and therefore excluded from these figures:

  • Fatal accidents involving workers travelling on a public highway. Those killed whilst commuting are also excluded. 
  • Fatal accidents involving workers travelling by air or sea. 
  • Fatalities to members of the armed forces on duty at the time of the incident. 
  • Fatal injuries at work due to ‘natural causes’, often heart attacks or strokes, unless brought on by trauma due to the accident. 
  • Deaths from occupational diseases. The asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma is just one example and there were 2,257 such deaths in 2022.  

What do these numbers mean for employers?

Whilst overall industry trends allow employers to understand at a macro level the risk rating of the industry, in order to implement truly effective safety management systems, organisations must identify, assess and control the specific risks associated with their activities. They must also take into account their workforces, skills and competency and environmental factors, amongst others. That said, these figures may assist employers in considering whether they should give special consideration to the risks associated with certain groups of employees, carrying our certain activities. For example, employers might consider it appropriate to pay special regard to the work activities and control measures, which are appropriate for older members of the workforce carrying out risky activities.   

Equally, falls from height consistently account for a high number of fatalities. Employers must consider whether they provide adequate training and equipment for work at height and have robust safe systems of work which are in place and adhered to, to support this. 

The data collated and published by the HSE lays bare the risks associated with many industry sectors and work activities. This means that employers failing to have in place compliant systems and procedures cannot argue a lack of awareness of risks, or that the risks to employees are minimal/trivial and do not need to be controlled.  

Should a fatality or serious accident or near-miss occur in your workplace and you have not ensured the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees and members of the public who may be affected by your work, you risk enforcement action and ultimately a prosecution. In this circumstance, the HSE are confident in holding both the employer/company and company directors to account. 

If you require any advice in respect of health and safety law or face investigation or prosecution in respect of health and safety matters, please contact Ian Manners.

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