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HSE reports first accident rate rise in nearly a decade

The Health and Safety Executive is undertaking an in-depth analysis of its latest construction sector injury figures after they showed a rise in incident rates for the first time in almost a decade.

The increase, which surprised many safety experts, is a blow to the Government’s Strategy for Sustainable Construction which says major -injury rates should be falling by 10 per cent year-on-year.

Both major and over-three-day injury rates increased during 2007-08.
HSE chief inspector for construction Stephen Williams said the increases were “a real disappointment”.

In its annual statistics report, the HSE said the recent downward trend in construction-related injuries might have ended.

The number of major injuries reported last year was 3,764, up from 3,730 in 2006-07.

The rate of major injury per 100,000 employees was 302.9 last year, up from 300.7.

Over-three-day injuries also increased. The HSE said there were 7,446 over-three-day injuries reported last year, equal to a rate of 599.2 per 100,000 employees. In 2006-07 there were 7,161 reported cases, a rate of 577.3 per 100,000 employees.

Mr Williams said the regulator would try to “look behind the figures to see if there is something there”.

HSE analysts will examine changes in potential contributing factors - such as the levels of employed and self-employed workers as well as the level of construction activity - to pinpoint any issue that may have prompted the rise.

Major and minor injury rates cover employees and not self-employed workers because of problems with under reporting.

Commenting on fatalities, which fell from 79 to 72, Mr Williams said: “Early indications for this year are actually for a reduced level of fatal -notifications.”

While he said it was too early to gauge injury rates for 2008-09, Mr Williams said he was “cautiously optimistic”.

It is expected the analysis of last year’s figures will influence the regulator’s decisions on future campaigns.

Bucking a trend

While the total number of enforcement notices issued across all industries dropped last year, the level of construction sector notices increased.

HSE statistics show that 2,505 notices were issued in the period 2007-08, up from 2,343 in the previous year.

The figure includes 659 improvement notices, 11 deferred prohibitions
and 1,835 immediate prohibitions.

Analysis: Harsh times are no excuse for cuts

By Ray Hurst

While the fatal accident figures are better than last year, this data shows we’ve still got an awful long way to go.

It’s concerning that we still have so many preventable deaths in the construction industry.

The risks in this industry are well known, yet 72 workers were still killed in this sector last year.

I hope the new Health and Safety (Offences) Act will provide the tougher penalties needed to make it even more obvious that society isn’t prepared to tolerate slackness on safety.

For employers to make major cutbacks on health and safety during the downturn would be both irresponsible and also dangerous for the future of our economy, which is already entering a really testing period.

These figures reinforce the need for the Health and Safety Executive to continue to bolster the number of inspectors it has.

We need to keep reminding business to ensure health and safety is on their agenda.

We must get the message across that safety makes sense and does pay.

Ray Hurst is the president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health