Workplace fatalities – on the up!

20,000 major injuries remains the UK national average.  This is despite the hard work, commitment and investment of companies in safety programmes.  Gary Jones – GCL’s occupational health and safety technical expert explores what businesses might do to decrease this figure.

2018 saw a 4% increase in UK workplace fatalities with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reporting an increase of 141 workplace fatal injuries in 2017/2018 to 147 in the following year, in-fact there has been no reduction in fatalities for a number of years.  Ill health incidents are rated flat but reports show that stress, depression and anxiety incidents are increasing.

The need to evaluate existing measures taken to reduce fatalities and major injuries should therefore be a top priority for organisations.


Heinrich’s Triangle Theory claims that by focussing on low-level accidents, organisations can reduce the more serious incidents at the top.  However, according to Donald Martin and Alison Black’s research 2015 paper ‘Preventing serious injuries and fatalities’, only 21% of incidents correlated with the higher-risk events at the top.  This suggest that the incidents that injure people are not the same as those that kill them.

Behavioural-based safety

There has been a large focus on behaviour-based safety over the last two decades, which has helped to reduce the rates of minor injuries by about 60%. However, the focus is often on “fixing the worker” as Todd Conklin calls it in the “5 Principles of Human Performance”. This means modifying the worker’s behaviour so they more mindful of their environment and associated work hazards. Contrary to this approach, major accident reports informs us that it is often organisational factors rather than individual related issues that underlie serious injuries and fatalities and is often down to the way work is planned and managed. To prevent such injuries, strategies need to be put in place that focus on eliminating hazards, such as engineering improvements, designing-out hazards and, where practical, implementing safety technology.


Since many injuries result from low-level hazards, the existing injury metrics are not appropriate for measuring serious injury and fatality risks. When we measure success through the absence of accidents, we run the risk of ignoring blind spots. This is referred to as the ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’, where we focus on the accidents we can see above the waterline but are blind to the near misses below.

Risk being normalised

Many people who carry out hazardous activities can become normalised to risks later on and as such, unacceptable practices become the norm. In a similar manner, those assessing high-risk activities can underestimate the probability of events occurring, assuming it won’t result in a fatality because it has not happened previously.

Victim blaming

Despite evidence showing that human behaviour is determined by context, there is still the belief that injuries are caused by worker negligence. This misguided belief is amplified when human error is identified with little effort being put into understanding the reasons behind the error.

So how do I ensure my workforce is working safely?

A new approach doesn’t necessarily mean using a different set of measuring tools. Organisations can still use many of the existing safety activities, including auditing, observations and training courses. However, it does require a change in how you measure success and using a more human approach when examining accidents and near misses.

What is ISO 45001?

ISO 45001 is an internationally recognised standard for occupational health and safety. It exists to help all kinds of organisations put in place demonstrably sound occupational health and safety performance.

Why get certified?

ISO 45001 enables companies to focus on implementing health and safety systems which safeguard anyone coming into your work environment: clients, staff and contractors.

Further benefits of becoming certified

  •  Compliance with a legal or business requirement
  •  Competitive advantage in the marketplace
  • Identifying problem areas and opportunities for improvement
  • Independent verification of system suitability & process reliability.
  • Enhancing business reputation & corporate image
  • Showing people your care & commitment about a subject of concern
  • Greater staff awareness of and responsibility for company obligations
  • Better resource usage and reduced costs of failures.
  • Demonstrating “Due Diligence” to be in more legally defensible position against possible lawsuits.

Contact us to discuss how your organisation can achieve a certified occupational health and safety management system based on either ISO 45001 or OHSAS 18001.