You might have yawned your way through the office health and safety presentation, but for employees working in the UK’s most dangerous jobs, following the correct safety procedures could mean the difference between life and death. Farmers, fishermen and construction workers are among those most likely to experience injury or loss of life at work but these are by no means the only dangerous jobs in Britain…
Farming and fishing
Despite agriculture making up a small proportion of the UK’s workforce – fewer than one in a hundred employees work in the industry – the sector accounts for one in five workplace deaths. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that 34 people died and 1,061 suffered injuries on British farms in the 12 months leading up to April 2011. The total across all industry sectors was around 200,000 injuries and 171 deaths.
Tractors and machinery not being maintained properly, farmers not being effectively trained in how to use them, the hazards of working with animals, particularly bulls and heifers at calving, and falls from height (while repairing roofs for example) are the main causes of accident and injury.
James Chapman, a farmer from Warwickshire, had his arm torn off by farm machinery when he was just 23. The Young Farmers Club chairman says there are many reasons why farming is dangerous. ‘It is a very rough, macho industry,’ he told the BBC. ‘It’s often because people are left alone. Also, they could be young and inexperienced, or older people, who would have retired maybe five or 10 years ago in other industries. They are still working on farms with big kit and big animals.’
While improvements in health and safety have reduced the number of fatalities in other industries, deaths in farming remain high – and it’s a similar story for those working at sea. Commercial fishermen are up to 50 times more likely to die compared to those in other professions, according to a study by Oxford University.
If agriculture and fishing sound too risky, you might want to think twice before going into construction. It, too, has an alarmingly high rate of injury and fatality – only 5% of the UK workforce is employed in construction but it accounts for 27% of fatal injuries to employees. Although improvements in health and safety have seen fatalities reduced by two-thirds in the last 20 years, 50 people still tragically lost their lives while working in construction last year. Those most at risk include scaffolders, steeplejacks, plumbers and steel workers, with the most common accidents involving falls from height, slips, trips and electrocution.
In addition, more than 5,000 new occupational cancer cases are diagnosed each year as a result of past exposure from construction hazards, namely asbestos, according to the Cancer Burden Study. Last year also saw an estimated 36,000 new cases of work-related ill health in the sector, with a significantly higher rate of musculoskeletal disorders compared to other industries.
Similarly, only 10% of the British workforce is employed in manufacturing but it accounts for 21% of fatalities and 15% of reported injuries to employees. Last year there were 27 fatal injuries to workers compared to an average of 30 in the previous five years – and about a quarter of the number recorded 20 years ago.
More than 10% of last year’s injuries involved machinery, with food manufacture having a rate of reported major injury almost twice that for manufacturing as a whole. Thankfully though, improvements have seen serious injury rates in the food and drinks sector halve since 1990, in one of the biggest improvements seen across all industries.
Again, it’s estimated that more than 3,000 occupational cancer cases are diagnosed each year as a result of previous exposure to hazards in manufacturing.
Miners & rig workers
Although safety improvements mean that miners, tunnellers and rig workers may not attract higher insurance premiums from some firms, it still remains a high-risk industry. Those working underground face hazards, such as roof cave-ins, explosions, fires and flooding, and have a much higher risk of developing lung diseases in the future due to prolonged exposure to dusts.
Rig workers are exposed to obvious potential dangers – extracting volatile substances with heavy machinery, often in remote locations and in extreme weather conditions, with those performing day-to-day drilling duties on the rig floor having the highest accident rate of all.
Other risky jobs
While many traditionally risky occupations, such as scaffolders, steeplejacks, miners and rig workers, no longer attract higher than usual life insurance premiums from some firms thanks to improvements in health and safety, there are certain professions that may still attract a ‘loading’.
‘These can include everything from stunt performers, circus acts and dangerous sports, like motor-racing drivers and national hunt jockeys to those travelling to war torn areas of the world, such as journalists, cameramen, and private security guards,’ says Calvin Cole, head of underwriting and claims at RGA UK insurance group.