Workplace Fatalities in 2020 - Chris Mee Group | CMSE

Workplace Fatalities in 2020

Aisling Hegarty, Health & Safety Consultant based in the Chris Mee Group Cork HQ, reflects on the HSA Workplace Fatality figures for 2020.

According to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) Fatal Workplace Injuries figures 51 people have died due to work-related accidents in 2020. This is the highest figure reported in the previous five years. However, 2015 remains the highest reported year in the last decade in which 56 people had lost their lives due to workplace accidents. In the context of the current pandemic, with reduced economic activity, that figure for 2020 would appear on the surface to be worrying indeed.

The year-on-year comparison of fatalities in the workplace is shown in the table below:

According to the provisional figures, the Agriculture sector accounted for 37% of fatalities in 2020. A broadly similar proportion was seen in previous years where the sector accounted for 40% of fatalities in 2019; 38.5% in 2018 and 52.1% in 2017.

The Construction sector accounted for 27.5% of fatalities in the workplace in 2020, remaining the second highest sector for work-related fatalities. These latest figures are very surprising considering the significant shutdown of most construction sites back in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Looking back to previous years, the sector accounted for 25% of fatalities in 2019; 13% in 2018 and 13% in 2017. An ongoing reduction of fatalities in the construction sector had been seen in recent years, yet the rise in fatalities in the preceding two years is a somewhat concerning development.

It was reported in our previous review in the Autumn that Transportation and Storage sector reported zero fatalities for 2020, however the updated provisional figures have now indicate two fatalities occurred late in the year. This sector has been subject to a lot of focus from the HSA and associated public bodies in recent years and the trend in reducing fatalities remains positive. Note the workplace fatality numbers in this sector exclude death that occur as a result of a road traffic incident which are reported by the Road Safety Authority.

An increase in the number of work-related fatalities have been reported for the Manufacturing and Wholesale and Retail Trade sector in comparison to previous years. During the current pandemic these sectors remained predominantly operational largely due to the essential nature of the goods and services provided. The figure deserves further analysis to fully understand the jump to five fatalities however only limited information is available at this point.

From a geographical perspective, of the fatalities reported, nine had occurred in Cork and five in each of the counties Galway, Kerry and Donegal. These numbers again may be swayed by the agricultural sector incidents in the large counties noted but Cork does appear to have a disproportionate number of fatalities.

The HSA published the Annual Review of Workplace Injury, Illness and Fatality Statistics 2018–2019, in December 2020, providing a more detailed statistical analysis of fatalities across the different sectors. It revealed the most common causes of work-related fatalities were:

  • falling from height
  • loss of control of vehicles or handling equipment
  • falling of objects
  • entering dangerous areas.

Noteworthy too, the report observed that the age profile of those killed in workplace accidents pointed to older workers being more at risk with those aged 65 and over accounting for 33%. In comparison, just 4% of younger workers aged between 25-34 were killed in workplace with zero fatalities in the 18-24 age group. This may be due to that fact that many of the fatalities in agriculture involve older farmers. It is often considered that younger workers are more at risk of death or serious injury in the workplace, largely due to inexperience, lack of training and being generally more likely to take risks. The statistics appear to more readily point to the younger generation being a risk averse segment of the working population.

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