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Workplace deaths 'at record low'

24 June 09 15:34 GMT

The number of people killed at work has fallen to a record low, Health and Safety Executive figures have revealed.

There were 180 deaths in the 12 months to March, down from 233 the previous year and the lowest since records began in 1974.

Fatal injuries in agriculture fell from 46 to 26, while in construction the total fell from 72 to 53.

Campaigners say the figures support the case for strong workplace health and safety laws.

HSE chairman Judith Hackitt said: "We can take heart from the fact that Great Britain consistently has fewer fatal injuries than comparable industrialised nations in the rest of Europe."

The number of fatalities among service workers fell from 73 to 63 and dropped by five to 32 among manufacturing employees.

But Mrs Hackitt added: "Statistics on fatal injuries do not give us the whole picture.

"Work-related ill health is a significant problem and accounts for four times more working days lost than workplace injury."

The HSE has been campaigning for employers to help prevent "slips and trips" at work.

Last year, it said 34 million working days were lost through ill health and injuries in the UK and that 2.1 million people suffered from a work-related health problem.

In 1974, when the Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced and the HSE established, more than 650 workers died as a result of workplace safety failings.

Although there is a long-term downward trend in the rate of fatal injuries, the year-on-year improvement has become less marked in recent years.

Nattasha Freeman, president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said the figures demonstrated the importance of regulations.

"Health and safety is not just mindless bureaucracy, brought in to make life difficult or prevent us enjoying our lives. It's about preventing true tragedy that destroys lives," she said.

'No complacency'

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber welcomed the news but warned against complacency.

"Every death is one too many and can be avoided," he said.

"Nor should these record low figures be seen as evidence that employers are taking more care.

"Falls in injury and death rates are usual during a recession because fewer new employees are being recruited."

In 2007, University of Liverpool researchers who interviewed 581 hospital patients who had been hurt at work found that only 30% of "reportable" accidents - serious injuries that kept the victim off work for more than three days - had been flagged up.

Brian Nimick, chief executive of the British Safety Council, added: "Creating a safer working environment for colleagues needs everyone's commitment."

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