Going to work should not be a death sentence. But for an increasing number of people it is.
Deregulation and a push to avoid giving workers proper employer contracts is driving a rise in work-related deaths.
Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive on Wednesday showed show that 144 workers were fatally injured between April 2017 and March 2018. This represents an increase of nine fatalities from 2016-17.
There was a particularly sharp increase in construction deaths.
Work-related deaths in the construction industry increased to 38 in 2017-18, up from 30 in the previous year. There were a further six fatalities in the construction sector which involved a non-worker member of the public.
The rate of fatal injury in construction is now 1.64 per 100,000 workers employed. This is around four times as high as the average rate across all industries.
There were 29 deaths in agriculture, 15 in manufacturing and 15 in transportation/storage.
There is a clear link to the use of bogus self-employment contracts.
The fatality injury rate for self-employed employees across all industries was 0.84 per 100,000 workers. That’s nearly double that for those who are directly employed (0.38), with deaths among the self-employed accounting for a third of all those reported.
Of all self-employed deaths in 2017-18, 30 per cent occurred within the construction sector.
Construction’s total of 38 deaths for 2017-18 includes three workers who died following a tower crane collapse in Crewe last year: David Newall, Rhys Barker and David Webb.
Also released were the latest figures showing the terrible toll of employers’ use of asbestos.
Mesothelioma is contracted through past exposure to asbestos, and one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly. It caused the death of 2,595 people in Britain in 2016.
The current figures are largely a consequence of occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before 1980. Annual deaths are expected to remain broadly at current levels for the rest of the decade.
But asbestos-related deaths are not all rooted in the past exposure.
A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health in 2016 said, “Asbestos-containing materials can still be found in around half a million non-domestic premises (and probably around a million domestic ones).
“Often it is either hidden or has not been identified as asbestos. This means that people are still being exposed to asbestos.
“It is often people who are working in maintenance, refurbishment or demolition, but people can, and do, become exposed simply by working in a building with asbestos, as fibres can become dislodged and breathed in.”
Cutting workplace deaths means building stronger unions, and to fight to put safety before profit.