Work injury concept. Worker had an accident and is lying injured

Britain’s most dangerous occupations revealed

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A fatality analysis among British workers by E&T shows that work is becoming safer in some areas and riskier in others.

A new release of 2018/19 data by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health and safety, on work-related fatalities in Great Britain gave impetus to dig deeper and find which are the most dangerous occupations in the country and whether any significant changes over the past four years have occurred within engineering-related areas.

The latest figures show that 147 people were killed at work in 2018/19, up six from the previous year. The five-year average is 142.

E&T’s findings show that the share of fatal injuries over the period between 2014/15 and 2018/19 increased for manufacturing to 17.7 per cent, up from 12.7 per cent four years earlier. More positive is the news for the construction sector where the share declined, from one-quarter of fatal events to around one-fifth of deaths among workers.  

Since the planning year of 2014/15, the number of fatal accidents among workers has been largely dominated by deaths of workers employed in the services sector (>30 per cent). 

There were 26 deaths among workers in the manufacturing sector last year, up from a low of 15 the year before. In the sub-sector of manufacturing fabricated metal products, work appears to have become more dangerous, with seven deaths, up from two in the previous period.

The area of gas, electricity and water supply, sewerage, waste and recycling has seen a total of 43 fatal events over the past five years. The majority of these occurred in waste collection, treatment and disposal activities. As the UK is increasingly warming to the idea of recycling, this warrants reconsideration. Recent analysis by the Telegraph suggests that more than two-thirds of the packaging in families’ weekly shops is either not recyclable or not clearly labelled as such. As the appetite and mindset for recycling evolves and the industry grows in size, incident rates may increase too.

There are fewer workers in waste and recycling overall but a relatively higher death toll, figures suggest.  The fatality rate per 100,000 workers was worryingly high at 6.05 in 2018/19, second only to the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, according to HSE’s annual account.

With the finding that the construction sector became safer, according to HSE’s data, E&T analysis shows in which subsector this trend is most noticeable. In 2018/19, fatalities reached a record low of 30 events. The lion’s share of deaths occurred in the subsector of ‘specialised construction activities’, 88 since 2014/15. Of these, 13 happened in 2018/19, down to a record low for the five-year period and comparing notably positively with the 23 deaths that took place in 2017/18.

Age and gender analysis

That work for men can be more perilous may come at no surprise to many engineers, given that men tend to perform more physical labour in the UK, the area where the majority of fatal events occur. Last year, a study suggested that men working as labourers or in other physically demanding roles bear a higher risk of dying early than those with more sedentary jobs.

Over the last five years, female workers were most likely to die after being struck by a moving vehicle (9). Men, on the other hand, were found to be more likely to die as a result of a fall from a height (178). When taking into account both workers and members of the public, the analysis found that women are more likely to be killed by slipping, tripping or falling (50). Men have a higher probability of dying from being struck by a moving vehicle.

Some forms of fatalities are also strongly age-related. E&T found that older workers are more exposed to fatal risks in the form of falling from heights. Younger workers are more likely to be killed by coming into contact with electricity or with moving machinery. 

In terms of geography, Scottish workers and companies may want to reevaluate health and safety procedures. For 2018/19, there was a notable increase in the number of deaths in Scotland, apparently driven by a rise in fatal events within the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector as well as in services.


On a longer-term basis, things look much safer than in the past decades. According to the 2019 report issued by HSE, a long-term downward trend for fatal events per 100,000 workers has been recorded since the 1980s, levelling off from 2013/14 onwards at around 0.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers.. 

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