The number of workplace fatalities in Britain last year fell to the lowest annual rate on record, but the Hazards Campaign is warning that work-related deaths overall increased markedly as asbestos cancer deaths soared.
Provisional data released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on 2 July 2014 reveals that 133 workers were fatally injured between April 2013 and March 2014, compared with 150 in the previous year.
The overall rate of fatal injury dropped to 0.44 per 100,000 workers, compared to 0.51 in 2012/13. But while fatalities fell by 17, latest HSE figures for the asbestos cancer mesothelioma showed an increase of 244 deaths between 2011 and 2012, the most recent year for which figures for the asbestos cancer are available.
The figures confirmed that 2,535 people died from mesothelioma in 2012, up from 2,291 in 2011. Deaths from asbestos-related lung cancer are generally thought to match or in all probability significantly exceed the mesothelioma figure, which is yet to peak.
Safety minister Mike Penning, who did not refer to the upward asbestos deaths trend, said: “Any death at work is a death too many. But these statistics show that workplaces are getting safer. The Health and Safety Executive do an excellent job in making sure each and every one of us can go out to do an honest day’s work in the knowledge that our safety is being taken seriously.”
The Hazards Campaign’s Hilda Palmer responded: “It is fantasy to pretend conditions are improving at work. There’s less blood on the factory floor, but we have instead a generation of working wounded, scared to take sick leave and falling prey to the occupational diseases of the 21st century – work-related cancer, heart disease, depression, suicide and stroke.
“Work for many is still a fast track to sickness. HSE statistical sleight of hand may help the government justify its unhealthy attachment to deregulation at any price, but it is doing nothing to help an increasingly insecure, overworked and stressed out workforce.”
Palmer points out that even the fatality picture is nowhere near as rosy as painted by HSE. Workplace fatalities in agriculture and waste and recycling fell, but increased in construction from 39 to 42. Deaths in Scotland were down on the previous year, from 23 to 20, but higher than in either 2010/11 or 2011/12.