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The Futility of Workplace Fatalities
Date of Issue: Monday, 9 July, 2012
HSE has just published the latest data on fatal workplace accidents. Provisional data for the 12 month period to the end of March 2012 shows that there were 173 fatal injuries compared with a final total of 175 for the previous period. The rate of fatal accidents, 0.6 per 100,000 workers has remained the same. While it is still too early to say with certainty that the downward trend of previous years has stalled this will provide ammunition for those predicting dire results from the cuts in the HSE budget.
If we look at specific industries there is some encouragement in the fact that there has been a slight reduction in both raw numbers and accident rates for both construction and agriculture, two of the traditional ‘high risk’ industries.
However, while we tend to focus on the numbers this is neglecting some of the other consequences of workplace accidents. I remember some years ago being invited to speak to the main board of a major UK manufacturing company. After the directors had finished their board meeting they were clearly unsure why they were being asked to stay for this briefing. When the CEO introduced the health and safety talk he did it by asking how many of them had ever had to tell an employee’s family that their loved one would never come home from work again. From that moment I had their undivided attention.
Remembering this, I was pleased to see that in introducing the new figures, HSE Chair, Judith Hackitt, stressed that each of these fatal accidents represented a real person whose death would cause sorrow to their families, friends and workmates. A workplace accident does not only affect the individual themselves but has a wider impact both within the workplace and within society itself. Health and safety professionals since the days of Heinrich have attempted to quantify the financial impact of workplace injuries and increasingly we are seeing return on investment being used, appropriately, to justify expenditure of improved controls. Unfortunately, no-one has yet found a way to measure the private or societal impact resulting from the unnecessary loss of life resulting for workplace accidents. Only when someone close to you has been killed or seriously injured do we come to understand this tragedy.
Barry Holt, IIRSM Director of Policy & Research