Every year the HSE publishes reports on the number of fatal workplace accidents in the UK.

This year, the HSE reported the lowest annual number of work-related deaths on record. Whilst this is welcome news, industries should not be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that this reduction is entirely related to improvements in health & safety practices. The national lockdown restrictions imposed by the Government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have also had a role to play.

What does the Report say?

The report highlights that 111 workers were killed in workplace accidents between July 2019 and July 2020. That figure represents a decrease of 38 from the previous year and is the lowest annual number on record.

Construction remains by far the highest risk industry for fatal workplace accidents, followed by agriculture, forestry and fishing and manufacturing. Falls from height and being struck by a moving vehicle or object also remain the most prevalent risks resulting in fatalities. With those over 60 years of age being most affected.

What has been the impact from COVID-19?

It is easy to understand a reduction in fatalities, given so many workers may have been furloughed or their workload limited since March 2020. The report notes it is difficult to assess the current pandemic’s impact on the annual number of deaths but certainly, in February and March 2020, the number of workers killed was lower than the same months in previous years. The HSE report found in general that the number of workplace deaths for the first 10 months of 2019 was generally lower too, demonstrating that, even pre-COVID-19, there were positive changes and practices occurring in UK workplaces to continue to push the number of fatalities down.

Now that many business are operating again, health and safety should remain at the forefront of their minds as they consider safer ways of working for their employees in line with current Government guidance.

The HSE has reminded us that the fall in fatalities seen this current year may not reflect any major shift in the “inherent dangerousness of workplaces.” It is not known what the figure may have been without lockdown but it is likely that without many industries grinding to a virtual halt for over 3 months, the figure could potentially have been significantly higher.

As there were 99 deaths in the first 10 months of the year, it is possible had COVID restrictions not been put in place, approximately another 25 deaths might have occurred. This would take the total deaths over the 111 figure for this year, more in line with previous years (an annual average of 117 over the last 5 years), highlighting that this year has maybe not shown significant improvements in safety across UK industries after all.


Victoria Anderson

Senior Associate

Emma Dyson