When starting out in a new career or when looking to change job, workplace mortality and injury rates are not something that many people consider, but perhaps they should.
It is hardly a revelation that different jobs present different risks. While someone that works in an office may experience deterioration of their eyesight or risk carpal tunnel syndrome, farmworkers face serious or even fatal injury from handling dangerous livestock and commercial fishermen risk being swept overboard in rough seas.
Another fact that is often overlooked is that some of the most dangerous jobs are also some of the most poorly paid. For example, waste collectors earn little over £20,000 per annum, despite the sector having one of the highest fatal injury rates (per 100,000 workers) of any industry in the UK – second only to agriculture, forestry and fishing, another traditionally low-paid sector.
According to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) annual review of workplace fatalities and work-related injuries for 2019/20, there were 111 workplace fatalities and 65,427 non-fatal injuries reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).
Whilst on the face of it the figure of 111 deaths appears markedly better than the previous year’s figure of 149, anecdotal evidence from work accident solicitors suggests that COVID-19 restrictions are a major contributory factor in the drop in the number of work accidents and workplace fatalities.
With government lockdowns requiring many businesses to temporarily close their doors to workers or forcing them to run reduced workforces in order to comply with the restrictions, there has been an understandable decline in work-related fatalities and injuries during these months, impacting the overall figures for the year.
Looking at the overall workplace fatal injury figures, the most common cause of death was employees falling from height, accounting for 29 deaths or 26% of the total number of workplace fatalities in the UK for the year. Falls from height is consistently the number one cause of fatal injury at work, so, perhaps unsurprisingly, roles that involve working at significant heights, like construction and scaffolding, were some of the most dangerous on the list, but they didn’t come top.
So which industry has the unenviable title of being the UK’s most dangerous industry?
One thing to bear in mind is that you can view the fatal injury figures in one of two different ways. The first method is to simply compare the absolute number of deaths across the various sectors but the key issue with this is that it ignores one vital piece of information, the relative size of the workforce employed by each sector. The second way is to compare each sector in terms of the number of fatalities per 100,000 workers employed. When the data is viewed in this second context, the size of the industry is considered, the effect of annual fluctuations is minimised, and the data becomes more stable.
When looking at all the UK industries as a whole, the mortality rate in 2019/20 was 0.34 deaths per 100,000 workers, with a 5-year average figure of 0.42.
So how do the UK’s five most dangerous industries compare?
1st Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Sector Workforce (as a percentage of overall UK workforce) – 1%
Deaths in 2019/20 – 20
Deaths (5-year average) – 27
Deaths per 100,000 workers (5-year average) – 5.96
Versus UK average deaths per 100,000 of 0.42 – 14.19 x more likely to suffer a fatal injury
While the figure of 20 deaths in 2019/20 represents the second-highest number amongst the UK’s top five most dangerous sectors, it is significantly below the 5-year-average figure of 27.
It is not until you consider the fact that the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector only employ 1% of the UK workforce that the true scale of the risk faced by workers employed in this sector can be fully appreciated, with employees over 14 times more likely to suffer a fatal injury than the average UK worker.
Despite the fact that the construction industry suffered the greatest number of work-related deaths in 2019/20, workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector are at nearly four times greater risk of suffering a fatal injury than their counterparts in construction.
The greatest risk to those employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing was accidents involving being struck by a moving vehicle, accounting for 28% of all fatal injuries in the sector.
In terms of non-fatal injuries in the sector, there were 832 injuries reported by employers to RIDDOR in 2019/20, with slip, trips or falls accounting for 22% of all non-fatal injuries.
2nd Waste and recycling
Sector Workforce (as a percentage of overall UK workforce) – 0.3%
Deaths in 2019/20 – 5
Deaths (5-year average) – 9
Deaths per 100,000 workers (5-year average) – 4.57
Versus UK average deaths per 100,000 of 0.42 – 10.88 x more likely to suffer a fatal injury
In 2019/20, there were 5 deaths in the waste and recycling industry, compared to the 5 year average of 9.
Although these figures look relatively low in comparison to other industries, and therefore the assumption may be that the risks are lower, when you factor in the size of the industry workforce, at just 0.3% of the entire UK workforce, it becomes clear why the waste and recycling sector is considered to be the UK’s second most dangerous sector.
With workers at nearly 11 times greater risk of fatal injury than the average UK employee, the two most significant risks to are accidents involving moving machinery and accidents involving employees being struck by a moving vehicle, each separately accounting for 30% of all fatal injuries over the last 5 years.
Whilst suffering significantly fewer deaths than the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, the waste and recycling sector exhibited a far higher injury rate, with 1,598 non-fatal injuries reported under RIDDOR in 2019/20. Again, slips, trips, or falls accounted for the largest proportion of all non-fatal injuries in the sector.
Sector Workforce (as a percentage of overall UK workforce) – 7%
Deaths in 2019/20 – 40
Deaths (5-year average) – 37
Deaths per 100,000 workers (5-year average) – 1.64
Versus UK average deaths per 100,000 of 0.42 – 3.9 x more likely to suffer a fatal injury
With 40 deaths in 2019/20, the construction sector suffered the greatest number of work-related deaths of any sector in the UK. It was also the only sector that saw an increase in the number of deaths over the previous year’s figure.
Looking at those two facts in isolation, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that construction was the most dangerous industry, but you’d be wrong.
Making up 7% of the overall UK workforce, the construction sector is actually significantly safer than both the agriculture and waste industries, with workers less than 4 times as likely to be killed in a workplace accident than the average person working in the UK. This means that despite having the greatest number of deaths last year, construction is nearly four times safer than the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector and nearly three times as safe as the waste and recycling sector.
The key risk to workers in the construction industry, accounting for 47% of all fatal injuries, was accidents involving falls from height.
Whilst the 4,526 non-fatal injuries recorded in the construction figure is one of the highest of all the sectors on the list. When compared to the 1,598 non-fatal injuries recorded in waste and recycling – an industry nearly 24 times smaller than construction – it puts the figure in perspective and shows the significant progress made within health and safety in the construction industry.
4th Transportation and storage
Sector Workforce (as a percentage of overall UK workforce) – 5%
Deaths in 2019/20 – 11
Deaths (5-year average) – 14
Deaths per 100,000 workers (5-year average) – 0.88
Versus UK average deaths per 100,000 of 0.42 – 2.1 x more likely to suffer a fatal injury
With 11 deaths in 2019/20, the majority of which (35%) were caused by road traffic accidents or accidents involving people being hit by a moving vehicle, the transportation and storage industry sees workers marginally over twice as likely to suffer a fatal workplace injury than the average UK worker.
With 5% of the overall UK workforce employed in industries such as air transport, warehousing, postal services, and road haulage, 11 deaths represent a comparatively low figure when compared to those recorded in much smaller sectors, such as waste and agriculture.
When an industry is centred around the use of large vehicles and the transport and storage of huge quantities of palletised goods, it is understandable that the three most common causes of fatal injuries over the last 5 years have been accidents involving being hit by a vehicle (35%), falls from height (22%) and accidents involving people being struck by a falling object (13%).
With 8,864 non-fatal injuries reported under RIDDOR in 2019/20, 77% of which resulted in workers needing to take more than 7 days absence to recover, this sector has the second-highest injury rate of all the sectors on the list, recording nearly double the number of injuries found in construction, an industry employing a greater number of people.
Unsurprisingly, with the transport & storage sector encompassing industries such as postal and courier services, a large proportion (29%) of ‘over 7-day injuries’ were attributed to lifting and carrying incidents.
Sector Workforce (as a percentage of overall UK workforce) – 9%
Deaths in 2019/20 – 15
Deaths (5-year average) – 20
Deaths per 100,000 workers (5-year average) – 0.71
Versus UK average deaths per 100,000 of 0.42 – 1.7 x more likely to suffer a fatal injury
Despite being the sector with the largest workforce on our list, it is also the safest on the list, with workers less than 2 times as likely to sustain a fatal injury than the average UK worker.
With 15 fatal injuries in 2019/20, compared to the 5-year average figure of 20, the three most common causes of fatal injuries to workers in the manufacturing industry were falls from height, contact with moving machinery, and being struck by a moving object.
There were 11,245 non-fatal injuries reported under RIDDOR, 8656 (77%) of which resulted in the worker taking in excess of 7 days absence from work. Like the transport sector, the majority of these were associated with lifting and carrying.
Whilst it might all sound very bleak, the reality is that the UK remains one of the safest places to work in the world. Constant improvement to health and safety practices and the continued development of ever-better safety equipment means the UK consistently boasts one of the lowest standardised rates of fatal injury across Europe, lower than other large economies and significantly better than the EU average.
Continued investment in health and safety, both at the sector and employer level, can further reduce the prevalence of dangerous accidents and allow our UK workforce to enjoy a safer future.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen. No matter what the nature of the injury is, the physical and emotional effects can leave a lasting impact on the lives of those affected.
If you or a loved one has been injured at work following an accident that was not your fault, talk to an experienced personal injury solicitor about claiming the compensation you need to help get your life back on track.