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Bleak year of fatalities in waste sector

A total of 137 workers were killed at work in 2016-17, 14 of whom were in the waste sector, which has the second-worst fatality rate in the UK.

The national total was down 10 fatalities on the previous year. But the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) annual report says it could be explained by natural variation in the figures.

It is the second lowest year on record after 2013-14 but, in statistical terms, the number of fatalities has remained broadly level in recent years. The average annual number of workers killed at work during the 2013-17 period is 142.

Agriculture and waste and recycling continue to come out worst, with a rate of injury some 18 times and 15 times higher than the average across all industries, respectively.

HSE fatality rates 2017

HSE fatality rates 2017

The number of fatal injuries in waste and recycling in 2016-17 at 14 is almost double the annual average for the past five years (eight) and compares with six deaths in 2015-16.

While fatal numbers for the sector have fluctuated in recent years, the HSE says this increase is largely explained by a single incident on 7 July 2016 when five men died when a wall collapsed at the Hawkeswood recycling yard in Birmingham (pictured). 

HSE chair Martin Temple said: “As we approach the first anniversary of this incident, our thoughts remain with the families of those who died. We continue to fully support West Midlands Police’s investigation.”

In 2016-17, being struck by a moving vehicle accounted for 31 fatal injuries to workers compared with 28 in 2015-16 and an annual average of 25 over the longer period (below).

Twenty-five fatal injuries to workers were due to falls from a height. This is the lowest number on record and compares with 37 in 2015-16 and an annual average during the latest four-year period of 40.

Numbers are provisional and will not be confirmed until July 2018.

HSE types of accidents 2017

HSE types of accidents 2017


“In an economy moving from industrial manufacture to service provision, it remains shocking that 137 died at work – and this figure excludes tens of thousands of deaths due to industrial disease, work-related suicide, and deaths on road, rail, air and sea. It gives a misleading picture of the true ‘burden’ of health and safety failings on our society.

”The recent disaster at Grenfell Tower shows the consequences of deregulation, and this Government and future Governments must ensure that our regulations are protected, strengthened and proactively enforced, so that next year’s statistics reflect genuine progress and protection of workers. No-one ever died from too much regulation, but the human cost of ‘cutting red tape’ remains intolerable.”

Dan Shears, health and safety director, GMB union


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