Accidents at work statistics

Data extracted in May 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Database. Planned article update: May 2017.

This article presents main statistical indicators concerning non-fatal and fatal accidents at work in the European Union (EU) collected within the framework of the European statistics on accidents at work (ESAW) administrative data collection.

An accident at work is defined in ESAW methodology as a discrete occurrence during the course of work which leads to physical or mental harm. Fatal accidents at work are those that lead to the death of the victim within one year. Non-fatal accidents at work collected within ESAW are those that imply at least four full calendar days of absence from work (they are sometimes also called ‘serious accidents at work’). Non-fatal accidents at work often involve considerable harm for the workers concerned and their families and they have the potential to force people, for example, to live with a permanent disability, to leave the labour market, or to change job; indeed, they result in a considerable number of days of work being lost within the European economy.

Table 1: Number of non-fatal and fatal accidents at work, 2013 (1)
(persons)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_01) and (hsw_n2_02)
Figure 1: Fatal accidents at work, 2012 and 2013
(incidence rates per 100 000 persons employed)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_02)
Figure 2: Non-fatal accidents at work, 2012 and 2013 (1)
(incidence rates per 100 000 persons employed)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_01)
Figure 3: Fatal accidents at work, 2012 and 2013 (1)
(standardised incidence rates per 100 000 persons employed)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_mi01)
Figure 4: Non-fatal accidents at work, 2012 and 2013 (1)
(standardised incidence rates per 100 000 persons employed)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_mi01)
Figure 5: Fatal and non-fatal accidents at work by economic activity, EU-28, 2013
(% of fatal and non-fatal accidents)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_01) and (hsw_n2_02)
Figure 6: Fatal and non-fatal accidents at work by type of injury, EU-28, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_n2_07)

Main statistical findings

Number of accidents

In 2013, there were just over 3.1 million non-fatal accidents that resulted in at least four calendar days of absence from work and 3 674 fatal accidents in the EU-28 (see Table 1), a ratio of approximately 850 non-fatal accidents for every fatal one. There was a slight reduction in the number of accidents at work in the EU-28 between 2012 and 2013, with 38 thousand fewer non-fatal accidents and 244 fewer fatal accidents. Men were considerably more likely than women to have an accident at work. In the EU-28, more than two out of every three (69.8 %) non-fatal accidents at work involved men.

The number of accidents in a particular year is likely to be related, at least to some extent, to the overall level of economic activity. As such, an analysis of historical developments reveals there was a reduction in the number of accidents at work in 2009, which may be attributed to the slowdown, stagnation or contraction of economic activity associated with the financial and economic crisis.

Incidence rates

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 (referred to as the ‘incidence rate’); in Figures 1 and 2 simple incidence rates are shown, relating the number of accidents to the overall number of persons employed. In any given country this gives an indication of the likelihood of someone having an accident. For fatal accidents this ranged in 2013 from 1.0 per 100 000 persons employed or less in Sweden, Greece, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands (as well as in Iceland) to more than 4.0 per 100 000 persons employed in Latvia, Malta, Portugal and Lithuania (see Figure 1). For non-fatal accidents the range was from less than 100 per 100 000 persons employed in Bulgaria and Romania to more than 3 000 per 100 000 persons employed in France (see Figure 2). Particularly low rates in Bulgaria and Romania as well as in some other eastern EU Member States are mainly thought to reflect the fact in that these two Member States the reporting systems offer no or little financial incentive for victims to report their accidents; the phenomenon of low non-fatal incidence rates can be considered to reflect under-reporting following the assumption that many accidents remain unreported. The situation for incidence rates of fatal accidents is different as it is much more difficult to avoid reporting fatal accidents.. However, some experts argue that there could be even some under-reporting of fatal accidents in some Member States.

It should also be noted that fatal accidents are relatively rare events: as noted above, on average one out of 850 accidents in the EU-28 was fatal in 2013. Because of this, incidence rates for fatal accidents can vary greatly from one year to the next, in particular in some of the smaller EU Member States. This can be seen in Figure 1 where there are significant differences between 2012 and 2013 in some Member States.

Standardised incidence rates

When comparing data between countries these simple incidence rates can be difficult to interpret, as the likelihood of having an accident is related to the economic activity in which a person works (as is shown later in Figures 5 and 6) and the relative importance of different activities varies between countries. To account for this, standardised incidence rates are calculated and data for these rates are shown in Figures 3 and 4. These assume that the relative sizes of economic activities within each national economy are the same as within the EU as a whole. As such, these standardised incidence rates give a more neutral comparison of the health and safety situation in different countries. Standardised incidence rates have a slightly narrower activity coverage than the simple incidence rates, excluding mining and quarrying as well as some service activities (standardised incidence rates cover only the NACE sectors A and C - N, thus excluding sectors B and O - U). The range between the lowest and highest rates observed for the EU Member States was slightly narrower for the standardised rates than for the simple rates when analysing the fatal rates (see Figures 1 and 3), whereas the reverse was true for the non-fatal rates (see Figures 2 and 4).

Based on the slightly narrower activity coverage, across the EU-28 there were, on average, 2.3 fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed in 2013 (see Figure 3) while there were 1 696 non-fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed (see Figure 4).

The highest standardised incidence of fatal accidents at work in 2013 was recorded in Romania (6.9 deaths per 100 000 persons employed), marking a considerable increase compared with the value recorded a year earlier (4.7 deaths per 100 000 persons employed); Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Latvia and Austria were the only other EU Member States that reported standardised incidence rates above the level of 4.0 fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed. By contrast, at the other end of the range, the Netherlands recorded the lowest standardised incidence rate, 0.8 fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed.

The incidence of non-fatal accidents at work in 2013 was generally highest in insurance based accident reporting systems in some southern and western EU Member States, with Portugal reporting 3.6 thousand non-fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed, followed by France and Spain with rates of 3.2 thousand and 2.9 thousand per 100 000 persons employed. Insurance based accident reporting systems offer a significant financial compensation for the victim when an accident is reported, as opposed to legal obligation systems in which victims are covered by the general social security system. Among the eastern EU Member States, which mostly have legal obligation systems, Slovenia was the only one to report an incidence rate of more than 1 000 non-fatal accidents per 100 000 persons employed. By far the lowest rates were reported in Bulgaria and Romania, both below 80 non-fatal work accidents per 100 000 persons employed; again it should be noted that these values are thought to reflect a higher level of under-reporting.

Analysis by gender

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 incidence rates recorded in 2013 for men remained consistently much higher than those for women in each of the EU Member States. In Sweden, the average (simple) incidence rate for non-fatal accidents at work in all activities for men was no more than 1.3 times as high as that recorded for women, whereas in Austria the rate for men was 3.4 times as high as that for women, rising to 4.2 : 1 in Romania.

Analysis by activity

Another reason why the incidence of accidents may be higher for men is linked to the economic activities where they are more likely to work. Indeed, the number of accidents at work varies greatly depending upon the economic activity in question (see Figure 5) and is positively skewed in relation to male-dominated activities. Within the EU-28, the construction, manufacturing, transportation and storage, and agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors together accounted for almost two thirds (65.7 %) of all fatal accidents at work and just under half (47.0 %) of all non-fatal accidents at work in 2013. More than one in five (21.4 %) fatal accidents at work in the EU-28 in 2013 took place within the construction sector, while the manufacturing sector had the next highest share (16.6 %). Apart from transportation and storage, most service activities recorded relatively low shares of the total number of fatal accidents. Nevertheless, non-fatal accidents were relatively common within wholesale and retail trade, human health and social work activities, administrative and support service activities, as well as accommodation and food service activities.

Analysis by type of injury

It is also possible to analyse the data according to the type of injury sustained during the accident — see Figure 6. Data for the EU-28 for 2013 show that there were two types of particularly common injury, namely, wounds and superficial injuries (28.8 % of the total) and dislocations, sprains and strains (25.1 %), followed by two other relatively common types, namely concussion and internal injuries (17.3 %) and bone fractures (11.5 %).

The data collected in the context of ESAW also includes an analysis of which body parts were injured in the accidents (such as head, neck, back, torso and organs, arms and hands, legs and feet) as well as information on the causes and circumstances of the accidents.

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 349/2011 on statistics on accidents at work was adopted specifying in detail the variables, breakdowns and metadata that Member States are required to deliver; this legislation is being implemented in a number of phases.

European statistics on accidents at work (ESAW) is the main data source for EU statistics relating to health and safety at work issues. ESAW includes data on occupational accidents that result in at least four calendar 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.

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, as incidence rates in relation to every 100 000 persons employed, the denominator being provided by the authorities in the EU Member States that are responsible for ESAW data collection or by the EU’s labour force survey (LFS)) or as standardised incidence rates.

The data generally relate to all economic activities, unless otherwise specified; for example, the analysis in Figures 3 and 4 covers NACE Rev. 2 Sections A and C to N. Because the frequency of accidents at work varies between NACE activities (high risk activities include agriculture, construction and transport) a standardisation process is performed to facilitate the comparison of national data. A direct standardisation method is used with weights calculated for the European reference population (EU-28): the weights represent the proportion of the reference (working) population in each NACE activity. For each EU Member State the national incidence rates are calculated for each NACE activity and these are combined using the fixed set of EU weights to produce an overall standardised incidence rate for the Member State concerned; more details are available in a methodological note.

Statistics on accidents at work may reflect under-coverage or under-reporting. Under-coverage exists when the appropriate population is not covered by the source of the data on accidents, for example when a certain economic sector or employment type is excluded. Under-reporting relates to the situation where an accident occurs but is not reported although the related economic sector is included. The extent of under-coverage of ESAW data can be analysed partially by comparing the reference population (of workers) in ESAW with data derived from the labour force survey. Under-reporting is more difficult to analyse and establish but some comparisons are available. One method is to compare results from the reporting systems used for the legal obligation to report an accident with systems based on insurance reports; this may indicate under-reporting in the system for the legal obligation of accidents or over-reporting in insurance systems. Another method is to compare (geographically or over time) the ratio of fatal to non-fatal accidents, as the reporting of fatal accidents is thought to be more likely to be accurate due to their severe nature. Comparisons can also be made with data from household surveys, for example from the labour force survey (which included an ad-hoc survey in 2013 on accidents at work and work-related health problems). A study undertaken by Eurostat in 2014 using all of these approaches indicated that the level of under-reporting of non-fatal accidents is quite substantial in most EU Member States that joined the EU after 2003.

Context

A safe, healthy working environment is a crucial factor in an individual’s quality of life and is also a collective concern. EU Member State governments 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.

Within this field, the European Commission’s policy agenda for the period 2014–20 was set out in a Communication titled EU strategic framework on health and safety at work for 2014–2020 (COM(2014) 332 final), which outlined three major challenges: to improve implementation of existing health and safety rules; to improve the prevention of work-related diseases by tackling new and emerging risks without neglecting existing risks; to take account of the ageing of the EU’s workforce. This framework is designed to ensure that the EU continues to play a leading role in the promotion of high standards for working conditions within Europe (as well as wider afield), in keeping with the Europe 2020 strategy.

The framework put forward a range of actions under seven key strategic objectives, one of which was to improve statistical data collection to have better evidence and developing monitoring tools. In this context, the Communication noted that it is important for evidence-based policymaking to collect reliable, timely and comparable statistical data on work-related accidents and diseases, occupational exposures, work-related ill-health, and to analyse the costs and benefits in the area of occupational safety and health. Specifically, the Communication proposed the following action directly related to accident at work statistics: assess the quality of data transmitted by EU Member States in the framework of the European statistics on accidents at work data collection, with the aim of improving coverage, reliability, comparability and timeliness.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Database

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

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

ESMS metadata files

Publication

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

External links