It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who works outside the home, but work is a very dangerous place to be! Even people in occupations that don’t immediately present as hazardous are still prone to accidents like slipping and tripping and of course many of these accidents are caused by the inattention or sheer incompetence of others. All training on the subject of health and safety at work includes modules on how to keep others safe as well as yourself but it often only takes a second for everything to go horribly wrong – sometimes, it really is just an accident.

Employer’s Liability

There is an excellent bit of doggerel from the poet Harry Graham at the beginning of the twentieth century which goes;-

‘There’s been an accident!’ they said,
‘Your servant’s cut in half; he’s dead.’
‘Indeed!’ said Mr Jones, ‘and please
Give me the half that’s got my keys.’

Whilst it is hilarious, it isn’t something that would get an employer very far today. Had the servant been given the correct training to prevent him from being cut in half? Was there a guard on the machinery which would prevent servant dissection? Were the keys part of his responsibility and if so, had he had adequate preparation for the obvious lack of balance such a heavy load caused, etc, etc.

In Mr Jones’ day, health and safety at work was something that would not be even dreamed of – anyone going to work knew the risks and had to allow for them and many jobs were very hazardous and would almost inevitably shorten life. Miners for example knew that they would die young from the coal dust embedded deep in their lungs, farmworkers would often be killed be machinery but if they weren’t then they would certainly be at risk from infection and even exposure. Things are better now, but even so, the number of deaths at work seems very high.

Fatalities at Work

Figures for deaths caused directly by work are still being collated for the most recent period but have been estimated at one hundred and forty eight, which equates to one death for every 200,000 workers. This is half the total for 1993 which is an improvement, but can obviously be reduced still further. The fatal injuries are only 0.02% of all reported accidents at work – looked at in that light the number does seem less scary. To put it in perspective, it means that Mr Average could expect to have forty-nine minor accidents before he had one that killed him! It’s a good job that averages are only that or there might be some accident prone people around who should be quite worried. To bring the number of 148 even more into perspective, 113 members of the public were killed in work related incidents in the same period – this excludes railway-related incidents which could in some years of course considerable slew the figures.

Statistics being what they are – in other words, a bit of number play that could mean anything – another way of looking at these figures is that that number of people could easily have died by other means on the day they did, just by chance alone. The types of accident are not unexpected in the main – fall from height, struck by vehicle, drowning, contact with machinery – but what happened to the five people killed by animals and whatever could the ‘other’ accidents have been that killed a whole 28 people?


When it comes to non-fatal accidents, there are many causes and some can only have created minor inconvenience. The government statistics are mind-boggling and they do admit that there are many accidents at work which are never even reported, so statistics for injuries rather than fatalities must by definition be much more sketchy. However, the smallest number of people hurt in some way at work in the past year is somewhere in the region of 646,000, with 175,000 causing an absence from work of more than seven days.

Some employers are much more conscientious about compiling statistics than others, but it must be assumed that the actual total figure could be considerably higher, whilst the subtotal of severe injuries is likely to be fairly accurate, simply because of all the paperwork needed when someone needs to be paid statutory sick pay or other sums.

Slips, Trips and Other Disasters

Slips and trips are the cause of well over half of all workplace injuries but actually are well down the pecking order when it comes to time lost after the incident. People tend to have longer off work when they have hurt themselves when lifting, handling or carrying something and this is quite understandable really. A slip can just give you a nasty fright and a bruise. A back injury can disable you for life and both happen in an instant.

The difference is of course that everyone can have intensive training to prevent back injuries but an accidental slip could happen to anyone. Also, as far as the statistics go, there is a seasonal difference in the frequency of slips and falls. Apparently, or so the good people at the Health and Safety Executive tell us, you are more likely to slip on ice in the winter. You learn something every day!

Violent Behaviour

It is perhaps a sad indictment of the times we live in that violence in the workplace is so prevalent. There were 643,000 incidents of work related violence in the last reporting period. To save you going back to check, yes, that is just 3,000 less than the number of accidents and injuries! Of these, half were assaults resulting in injury and half were threats, with many of the victims being assaulted or threatened at least twice. Perhaps understandably, the highest incidence of this kind of workplace injury is among people working in protective services, health and education, all scenarios in which feelings can run high.

Alcohol and drug abuse was a definite factor in many cases and in almost half the cases, the perpetrator was known to the victim. The better news in this rather unpleasant statistic is that injuries are usually slight but there is a substantial number of cases – expressed as 12% which equates to well over seventy thousand people, the physical and psychological trauma is classed as being possibly permanent and life-changing in both the long and short term.

Staying Safe

Working can be hazardous, there’s no doubt about it. Obviously there are huge variations between occupations when it comes to the likelihood of being killed or seriously injured at work with jobs in the construction industry, agriculture and manufacturing being far more dangerous than, say, working in Sock Shop. That said, everyone in any job needs to be aware of the responsibilities that they have for others’ safety and all employers have to ensure that their staff are properly trained in health and safety at work.

Employers must also carry employers’ liability insurance for all their staff and anyone who is worried about any aspect of their safety at work should approach their employer in the first instance and if they don’t get the answers they need, they should contact the Health and Safety Executive to get further help and advice. All categories of injury at work are becoming less frequent year on year and although it is clearly never going to reach zero, everyone should work together to see how low they can go.

Andrew Murphy writes for Boss Training, a health and safety training company based in Leeds and loves music and football.