Health and safety at work statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from April 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: December 2014.
Table 1: Number of serious and fatal accidents at work, 2011 (1)
(persons) - Source: Eurostat (hsw_mi01)
Figure 1: Number of fatal accidents at work, 2010 and 2011
(incidence rates per 100 000 persons employed) - Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_02)
Figure 2: Number of serious accidents at work, 2010 and 2011
(incidence rates per 100 000 persons employed) - Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_01)
Figure 3: Fatal and serious accidents at work by economic activity, EU-28, 2011
(% of serious and fatal accidents) - Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_01) and (hsw_n2_02)
Figure 4: Accidents at work by type of injury, EU-27, 2010 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_07)

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 often create significant harm for the workers concerned and their families. Serious accidents have the potential to force people, for example, to live with a permanent disability, to leave the labour market or to change job. They also result in a considerable number of days of work being lost.

Main statistical findings

In 2011, there were just over 2.7 million serious accidents that resulted in more than three days of absence from work and 3 691 fatal accidents in the EU-28 — see Table 1. These figures marked a considerable reduction in relation to 2008, when there had been approximately 550 000 more serious accidents and nearly 850 more fatal accidents (based on time series for the EU-27). Men are considerably more likely than women to have an accident or to die at work. Almost four out of every five (79.0 %) serious accidents at work and 19 out of every 20 (95.9 %) fatal accidents at work in the EU-28 in 2011 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 (called 'incidence rate'). Across the EU-28 there were, on average, 1.94 fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed in 2011 (see Figure 1) while there were 1 601 serious accidents at work per 100 000 persons employed (see Figure 2).

The number of accidents in a particular year is likely to be related to the overall level of economic activity. As such, part of the reduction in accidents at work observed after 2008 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.

Among the EU Member States, the highest incidence of fatal accidents at work in 2011 was recorded in Portugal (4.3 deaths from accidents at work per 100 000 persons employed); Lithuania (2010 data) was the only other EU Member State that reported an incidence rate above the level of four fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed. By contrast, at the other end of the range, Greece, the United Kingdom, Malta and the Netherlands recorded the lowest incidence rates, below 1.0 fatal accidents at work per 100 000 persons employed.

The incidence of serious accidents at work in 2011 was highest in southern and western Europe, with Spain reporting in excess of 3 000 serious accidents per 100 000 persons employed. By contrast, among the eastern European Member States, Slovenia was the only one to report an incidence rate of more than 1 000 serious accidents per 100 000 persons employed. By far the lowest rates were reported in Bulgaria and Romania, both below 100 serious work accidents per 100 000 persons employed. Further analysis is needed to explain these differences.

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 2011. In Hungary, the Netherlands and Estonia, the average incidence rate for serious accidents at work for men was no more than 1.5 times as high as that recorded for women, while in Austria, Germany and Malta the rate for men was at least 3.0 times as high as for women, peaking at 4.9 times as high in Romania.

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 3) and is positively skewed in relation to male-dominated activities. Within the EU-28 in 2011, 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 under half (48.5 %) of all serious accidents. Close to one in four (23.1 %) fatal accidents at work in the EU-28 in 2011 took place within the construction sector, while the manufacturing sector had the next highest share (16.5 %). 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 4. Data for the EU-27 for 2010 show that there were two types of common injury, namely, wounds and superficial injuries (33.2 % of the total) and dislocations, sprains and strains (29.6 %). Around 1 in 10 accidents resulted in concussion and internal injuries (11.8 %) while a similar proportion of accidents concerned bone fractures (11.4 %).

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 while 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 Member States services responsible for ESAW data collection or 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 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (article 153) states that ‘(...) the Union shall support and complement the activities of the Member States in the following fields: (a) 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 for the period 2007–12 was set out in a Communication titled Community strategy for 2007–2012 on health and safety at work (COM(2007) 62 final), which outlined actions to make workplaces across the EU safer and healthier. It also set 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. During 2013 the European Commission conducted a consultation on the new EU occupational safety and health policy framework.

See also

Further Eurostat information



Health and safety at work (hsw)
Indicators on health and safety at work (hsw_ind)
Accidents at work (ESAW) - until 2007 (hsw_acc7_work)
Accidents at work (ESAW, 2008 onwards) (hsw_acc_work)
Work related accidents, health problems and hazardous exposure - LFS 2007 (hsw_apex)
Work related health problems and accidental injuries - LFS 1999 (hsw_inj_pb)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

ESMS metadata files


Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

External links