The British Safety Council has pledged to campaign even more vigorously to prevent deaths in the workplace and this should be welcomed.
Although the number of people who have died while on the job has been on a downward trend since the 1980s, a continued small rise in the number of workplace fatalities over the last two years should shake us all from any complacency.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that 144 people suffered fatal injuries at work in 2017/18 – nine more than in the same period the previous year. While 147 individuals suffered fatal injuries in 2018/19.
According to the reports, on average around 50% of all deaths in the workplace were due to accidents such as falling from height or getting hit by a vehicle or moving object.
Construction, waste removal and agriculture are some of the most obviously dangerous industries and this is reflected in the figures which show workers on the building site, recycling centre or the farm are at a much higher risk of dangerous and sometimes fatal accidents.
In 2018 construction had the highest number of fatalities – 39, while the waste and recycling industry came in as having the highest rate of deaths – 10.26 per 100,000 workers. This is 18 times the average and surpassed agriculture, which had the highest fatality rate this year.
But what these headline figures don’t show are the number of lone workers – those who work either in isolation or without direct supervision – who also suffered fatalities.
People work alone in a range of industries. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates there are more than 6million people in the UK who work on their own, be they telecommunications contractors, healthcare workers, security services providers or warehouse staff.
Many of these industries – telecoms, health and care, retail, financial services – don’t typically have a reputation for being dangerous. But they can be, particularly when an individual is working remotely. Such instances are rare, but they do occur and throughout our 20 years of providing protection for lone workers, we have helped successfully managed extreme situations.
In 2013, our Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) responded to two simultaneous calls from a housing association employee and a Court Bailiff. Both were using our lone worker services. The bailiff and the housing officer had been shot by a tenant who they were attempting to evict. Within two minutes armed police and ambulance crews were dispatched to the incident.
In cases such as these, speed is of the essence. Both victims were injured but not fatally. Police recovered a number of firearms and ammunition rounds from the shooter’s home, which suggests the situation could have escalated without fast intervention.
It’s clear from our experience that lone workers can find themselves in dangerous situations through no fault of their own. The recent tragic case of a debt collector who went door to door in Kent, is just one recent instance.
Employers should be doing their utmost to provide a working environment for their employees that is as safe as possible. Not only is it required by law, it is a moral imperative.
As chairman of the British Safety Council has said, every workplace death is a tragedy for the person, their families, friends and workmates. Everyone deserves to come home from work. We all – employers and employees alike – must do what we can to make sure workplace safety is always a priority.