Health and safety at work statistics
From Statistics Explained
- Data from October 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
This article presents some of the main statistical indicators concerning serious and fatal accidents at work in the European Union (EU). An accident at work is a discrete occurrence during the course of work which leads to physical or mental harm. Serious accidents at work are those that imply more than three days of absence from work. Fatal accidents at work are those that lead to the death of the victim within one year.
Serious or fatal accidents at work result in a considerable number of days of work being lost. On a more individual level, serious accidents at work have the potential to force people to change job, face living with a permanent disability, or leave the labour market.
Main statistical findings
In 2009, there were just over 2.8 million serious accidents that resulted in more than three days of absence from work and an estimated 3 806 fatal accidents in the EU-27 (excluding Greece and Northern Ireland) – see Table 1. These figures marked a considerable reduction in relation to 2008, when there had been approximately 400 000 more serious accidents and nearly 700 more fatal accidents. Men are considerably more likely than women to have an accident or to die at work. Almost four out of every five (79.5 %) serious accidents at work and nineteen out of every twenty (94.9 %) fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 in 2009 involved men.
An alternative way to analyse the information on accidents at work is to express the number of accidents in relation to the number of persons employed. Across the EU-27 (excluding Greece and Northern Ireland) there were, on average, 1 657 serious accidents at work per 100 000 persons employed in 2009, while there were 2.01 fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed – see Figure 1. The number of accidents in a particular year is related to the overall level of economic activity. Part of the reduction in accidents at work observed in 2009 may be attributed to the slowdown or contraction of economic activity, as a result of the financial and economic crisis. Otherwise, it should be noted that fatal accidents are relatively rare events and so these incidence rates can vary greatly from one year to the next, in particular in some of the smaller EU Member States.
The highest incidence of fatal accidents at work in 2009 was recorded in Malta (5.0 deaths from accidents at work per 100 000 persons employed); Malta led a group of six EU Member States that reported incidence rates above the level of four fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed. In contrast, at the other end of the range, Luxembourg, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom (for which data exclude Northern Ireland and road traffic accidents at work) recorded the lowest incidence rates, within the range of 1.5 down to 0.5 fatal accidents at work per 100 000 persons employed.
Part of the gender difference in relation to accidents at work may be attributed to the fact that there were more men than women employed in the labour force – although after adjusting for this, the rates recorded for men remained consistently higher than those for women in each of the EU Member States in 2009. In Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and the Netherlands, the average incidence rate for serious accidents at work for men were no more than 1.5 times as high as those recorded for women, while in Portugal, Austria and Malta the rate for men was in excess of three times as high as for women.
Another reason why the incidence of accidents is considerably higher for men is linked to the economic activities where they more frequently work. Indeed, the number of accidents at work varies considerably depending upon the economic activity in question (see Figure 2) and is positively skewed in relation to male-dominated activities. Within the EU-27 in 2009, the construction, manufacturing, transportation and storage, and agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors together accounted for just over two thirds (67.8 %) of all fatal accidents at work and just over half (50.2 %) of all serious accidents. More than one in four (26.1 %) fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 in 2009 took place within the construction sector, while the manufacturing sector had the next highest share (16.1 %). Apart from transportation and storage, most service activities recorded relatively low shares of the total number of serious or fatal accidents. Nevertheless, serious (rather than fatal) accidents were relatively common within wholesale and retail trade, human health and social work activities, administrative and support service activities and accommodation and food service activities.
It is also possible to analyse the data according to the type of injury sustained during the accident – see Figure 3. Data for the EU-27 for 2009 shows that there were two types of common injury, namely, wounds and superficial injuries (34.0 % of the total) and dislocations, sprains and strains (30.0 %). Around one in ten accidents concerned bone fractures (10.6 %), while there was a similar proportion of accidents resulting in concussion and internal injuries (10.2 %).
Data sources and availability
In December 2008 the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation 1338/2008 on ‘Community statistics on public health and health and safety at work’. The Regulation is designed to ensure that health statistics provide adequate information for all EU Member States to monitor Community actions in the field of public health and health and safety at work. In April 2011, a European Commission Regulation was adopted specifying in detail the variables, breakdowns and metadata that Member States must deliver: Regulation 349/2011 on statistics on accidents at work.
European statistics on accidents at work (ESAW) is the main data source for European statistics relating to health and safety at work issues. ESAW includes data on occupational accidents that result in more than three days of absence from work, including fatal accidents. The phrase ‘during the course of work’ means whilst engaged in an occupational activity or during the time spent at work. This generally includes cases of road traffic accidents in the course of work but excludes accidents during the journey between home and the workplace. Note, however, that in the United Kingdom accidents at work occurring in road traffic (during work) are not covered by the reporting system; it is thought that these accidents may account for about half of all fatal accidents at work.
The statistics presented for accidents at work refer to declarations made to either public (social security administrations) or private insurance schemes, or to other relevant national authorities (for example, those controlling labour or workplace inspections).
Indicators on accidents at work may be presented as absolute values, as percentage distributions, or as incidence rates (for example, in relation to every 100 000 persons employed, the denominator being provided by the EU's labour force survey (EU LFS)). The data generally relate to all economic activities, unless otherwise specified; for example, the analysis in Table 1 covers NACE Rev. 2 Sections A and C to N.
A safe, healthy working environment is a crucial factor in an individual’s quality of life and is also a collective concern. Member State governments across the EU recognise the social and economic benefits of better health and safety at work. Reliable, comparable, up-to-date statistical information is vital for setting policy objectives and adopting suitable policy measures and preventing actions.
The EC Treaty states that ‘the Community shall support and complement the activities of the Member States in the improvement in particular of the working environment to protect workers’ health and safety’. The main principles governing the protection of workers’ health and safety are laid down in a 1989 framework Directive 89/391/EEC, the basic objective of which is to encourage improvements in occupational health and safety. All sectors of activity, both public and private, are covered by this legislation, which establishes the principle that the employer has a duty to ensure workers’ health and safety in all aspects relating to work, while the worker has an obligation to follow the employer’s health and safety instructions and report potential dangers.
The policy agenda of the European Commission is set out in a Communication which details a ‘Community strategy for 2007-2012 on health and safety at work’ (COM(2007) 62 final), outlining actions to make workplaces across the EU safer and healthier. It also sets a quantitative target of a 25 % reduction in accidents at work, to be achieved – by the end of 2012 – through various EU and national measures.
Further Eurostat information
- Health and safety at work in Europe (1999-2007)
- Statistics in focus - 8.6% of workers in the EU experienced work-related health problems
- Causes and circumstances of accidents at work in the EU
- Health, see:
- Health and safety at work
- Main tables
- Health and safety at work (t_hsw)
- Serious accidents at work by gender (tsiem090)
- Fatal accidents at work (tsiem100)
- Accidents at work: incidence rate (tps00042)
- Fatal accidents at work: incidence rate (tps00043)
- Health and safety at work (t_hsw)
- Main tables
- Health and safety at work (hsw)
- Accidents at work (ESAW) - until 2007 (hsw_acc7_work)
- Accidents at work (ESAW) (hsw_acc_work)
- Work related accidents, health problems and hazardous exposure - 2007 Labour Force Survey (hsw_apex)
- Work related health problems and accidental injuries (LFS 1999) (hsw_inj_pb)
- Health and safety at work (hsw)
Methodology / Metadata
- Accidents at work (ESMS metadata file - hsw_acc_work_esms)
- Serious accidents at work by gender (ESMS metadata file - tsiem090_esms)
- Work related accidents and health problems (LFS2007) (ESMS metadata file - hsw_apex_esms.htm)
Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)
- European Commission - Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion - Health and safety at work
- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions
- International Labour Organization - Safety and health