New official figures suggest recent reduction in the number of deaths at work has levelled off, as campaigners say safety regulations are under threat


Unions have warned that Britain could face a sharp rise in fatal accidents at work as the country emerges from the recession.

It comes as new official figures suggest a pre-recession trend which saw a drop in the number of deaths at work has levelled off.

173 people were killed at work In 2011/2012, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

However, the HSE says year-on-year trends indicate that an improving safety record in UK workplaces has tailed off since 2010 (see graph, above. Source: Health and Safety Executive).

The building industry remains one of the most dangerous areas, particularly for self-employed workers.

49 of those killed were working in the construction industry.

Campaigners welcome the reduction in the number of fatal injuries at work, however UCATT says the decrease also comes as the number of people working in the construction industry continues to fall.

Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “No one should consider the latest construction fatality figures to be good news in any way.

“Deaths remain far too high, especially given the declining number of people working in the industry. Each and every death results in a family being left devastated when a loved one is killed.”

Campaigners say Coalition cuts, deregulation and ministerial attacks on the ‘health and safety culture’ are undermining attempts to reduce deaths and serious injury in workplaces around the UK.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “During previous economic downturns there has been a decrease in the rate of fatalities.

“The fact that this is not happening now suggests that deaths could rise sharply as Britain comes of out recession, unless urgent action is taken to improve workplace safety.

“During the past two years we have seen a considerable fall in the number of routine safety inspections and at the same time both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities have had their funding cut.

“Yet still we see the government continuing to attack what they claim is an unnecessary health and safety culture, a view that is unlikely to be shared by the families of the 173 people who died last year as a result of their jobs.

“The responsibility for these deaths may lie with the employers who break safety laws but ministers also have a duty to ensure that the rules are enforced and that the protection of workers is seen not as a ‘burden’ on employers but as a duty.”

Publication of the latest fatality rates comes in the same week that the HSE completed a consultation which could lead to scrapping regulations covering the use of safety headgear and the registration of tower cranes.

The HSE says more than half of the fatal injuries occurred when workers were hit by vehicles, fell from heights, or were struck by falling objects.

The official statistics covering deaths at work exclude work-related traffic accidents, deaths related to asbestos and suicides.

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