If someone asked you what the most ‘dangerous’ industry in the UK is, jobs that involve heavy and fast-moving machinery, heights, electricity or the military would instantly come to mind.
These suggestions are not unfounded: they all appear to have their fair share of obvious health and safety risks.
However, when considering workplace safety, there are many different factors to take in to account. These include the rates of work-related ill health, non-fatal accidents and fatalities.
These in turn relate to the size of (or number of people employed by) the industry, and the quality and availability of health and safety training for employees.
As well as construction, statistics show that farming, manufacturing, waste and mining are also among the UK’s most dangerous industries.
But the answer isn’t as simple as it seems because it depends how you define dangerous – whether it’s the number of fatal injuries or the number of accidents – not to mention that an estimated 1 in 5 workplace injuries go unreported.
Quite simply, dangerous can mean different things to different people and not every accident is reported. There is also a distinction to be made between minor accidents and fatal injuries (immediate or otherwise). All of which can skew the overall picture of how accident-prone a given industry is.
The worst industry for fatalities
When it comes to work-related deaths there are a couple of industries that frequently rank highly. Recent HSE statistics show that construction was the worst for fatalities, with 43 people fatally injured at work in 2015/16.
Interestingly, out of the 43 people fatally injured, 27 of these were employees and 16 were self-employed. There were also a further two people killed in construction incidents who were members of the public.
Possible explanations for this could be due to long working hours – leading to greater exposure to risk – combined with hazards such as working in adverse weather conditions while using dangerous tools, materials, chemicals and heavy machinery. You don’t get those in an office job!
Compared to other industries
From the HSE’s report for 2015/16, construction is clearly a dangerous industry, but it’s not alone.
There were 27 fatal injuries to workers in agriculture, lower than the five-year average of 32.
Two workers were killed in mining and quarrying, compared to an average of four deaths for the previous five years.
And there were 27 fatal injuries to workers in manufacturing, 23% higher than the five-year average.
One, perhaps overlooked, industry where injuries can also be high is fishing. The figures vary every year, but the UK fishing industry has reported fatalities as high as 16 during 2006.
A government report shows that these figures have generally been in decline over the last decade, with 35 injuries and 7 casualties in 2015.
No industry is risk-free
We expect construction, agriculture and mining to come with a high level of risk, but every industry has its risk. Believe it or not, those working in the hair and beauty industry often report a higher number of accidents than electricians, plumbers and police officers.
Jessica Willock, head of life insurance at Confused.com said, “The working world is a dangerous place for many Brits and it’s worrying to see so many people suffering injuries in the workplace.
“There are many industries out there where you may expect injury to be commonplace, but the fact that so many people were injured working in hair and beauty shows that injuries can occur in any working environment.”
While that may be generally true, it’s also true to say the degree of risk to construction workers is far higher and the impact of any injury is likely to be far greater.
How to make construction safer
Remember the nature of the work and the limitations of regulation. Construction is always going to be more accident-prone than some other industries because it involves heavy machines, tools and materials, which are particularly difficult to manage in poor weather conditions.
All the health and safety regulation in the world isn’t going to completely remove the possibility of at least a minor accident.
However, research suggests that the number of workers – across industries – fatally injured over the last 20 years has been steadily decreasing, although the last few years has seen this trend levelling off.
This is likely due to several factors, but it’s good news for those working in accident-prone industries. It also provides hope that – even if we cannot eliminate risk from the workplace – we can still find ways to make working environments safer for everyone.
Education is key
Richard Evens, Commercial Director, from the British Safety Council, explains: “The way to mitigate risk and make construction safer is to raise the level of awareness and understanding of the prevailing risks. It’s then essential to put in place the appropriate measures to reduce or, if possible, eliminate them.
“Those measures should include laws, regulations and guidelines. A more immediate solution however is to ensure employees at all levels have attended a “working safely” IOSH training course. Education across the board is key because improving health and safety across an industry starts with each and every employee.”
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