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Accidents at work - statistics on causes and circumstances - Statistics Explained
Statistics Explained

Accidents at work - statistics on causes and circumstances


Data extracted in November 2020.

Planned update: February 2022.

Highlights

During 2018, almost one third (31.7 %) of all non-fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 took place on industrial sites.

During 2018, around three tenths (29.3 %) of fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 resulted from losing control of a machine, tool or transport/handling equipment.

During 2018, the most common types of non-fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 resulted from physical or mental stress (24.2 %) or impact with a stationary object (21.5 %).

[[File:Accidents at work causes and circumstances-interactive_AAW2020.xlsx]]

Fatal accidents at work within the construction sector — share from impact with a stationary object (victim in motion), 2018

This article presents a set of main statistical findings in relation to indicators concerning non-fatal and fatal accidents at work in the European Union (EU); the statistics presented have been collected within the framework of the European statistics on accidents at work (ESAW) administrative data collection exercise. The particular focus of this article is an analysis of these statistics according to the worker’s location at the time of the accident, the type of working process and physical activity being undertaken at the time of the accident, and the cause of the accident. The data are presented for the total economy (all activities) and for five selected NACE sections: agriculture, forestry and fishing (NACE Section A); manufacturing (Section C); construction (Section F); wholesale and retail trade (Section G); transportation and storage (Section H).

Full article


Underestimates because of incomplete information

It should be noted that for many of the analyses presented in this article there is a heading for no information. While all EU Member States provided information for the total number of fatal and non-fatal accidents with an analysis by economic activity (NACE), not all of them provided data according to the other types of analysis presented in this article. The accidents for Member States that did not provide data for a particular analysis are counted within a heading for no information. In this way, the total number of accidents remains correct for individual Member States as well as for the EU-27 as a whole. For several of the analyses, notably by workstation (location), by working process, and by specific physical activity, the proportion of accidents within the EU-27 for which no information is available is relatively high. As such, when analysing the EU-27 data, the number of accidents for the various categories that are specified (and the share of these categories in the total) should be regarded as a lower boundary: these numbers (and shares) are likely to be under-estimates. Under each table or figure that contains EU-27 data there is a note indicating which Member States did not provide detailed data for the analysis shown: all of their accidents are included in the heading for no information (as well as in the total used to calculate shares).


When combining several classifications fatal accidents at work can be rare events

The absolute number of fatal accidents can be relatively small when looking at detailed data, for example when focusing on particular economic activities, for particular EU Member States (especially for the smaller ones) and/or when crossed with the various other classifications used in this article. For example, in the final figure of this article (Figure 8) it is possible to see that all fatal accidents at work in the construction sector in Malta resulted from an impact with a stationary object. However, there were just four fatal accidents at work in the Maltese construction sector in the latest year for which data are available. As such, particularly high shares may reflect rare events, rather than a concentration of accidents in a combination of the categories studied.

Workstation accidents

Non-fatal accidents

In 2018, more than half (56.5 %) of the 3.1 million non-fatal accidents that took place at work in the EU-27 occurred when a person was at their usual workstation or within the usual local unit of work (see Table 1); these accidents relate to fixed workstations in a workshop, shop, office and more generally, premises of the local unit of the employer. Less than one fifth of the total (18.1 %) took place at an occasional or mobile workstation or during a journey made on behalf of an employer (these statistics exclude trips made to/from work). Examples of employees with mobile workstations include lorry drivers, construction workers or refuse collectors. Examples of employees with occasional workstations include people making occasional journeys on behalf of their employer, people making specific interventions for their employer outside their usual local unit (for example, on the premises of a client for a meeting, or to install or repair something). A relatively small share (1.8 %) of all non-fatal accidents took place in other locations/workstations. Note that information on the location of accidents at work was not available for almost one quarter (23.6 %) of all non-fatal accidents in the EU-27 in 2018.

The likelihood of a non-fatal accident taking place at a person’s usual workstation was higher for people working in wholesale or retail trade (72.9 % of all non-fatal accidents) and manufacturing (71.0 %). As might be expected given the nature of the work, for people working in construction (43.2 % of all non-fatal accidents at work in construction) or in transportation and storage (36.9 %), accidents at an occasional or mobile workstation or during a journey on behalf of their employer were considerably more likely than for the other activities shown in Table 1. Around one tenth (10.3 %) of all non-fatal accidents among people working in agriculture, forestry and fishing took place in other workstations; this share did not rise above 1.3 % for any of the other NACE sections covered in Table 1.

Table 1: Non-fatal and fatal accidents at work, by workstation and economic activity, EU-27, 2018
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_01)

Figure 1 presents a similar analysis to that shown in Table 1 but with information presented by sex. In the EU-27 among people who had experienced a non-fatal accident in 2018, this was more likely to have occurred at their usual workstation or within the usual local unit of work for women than it was for men. For all activities together, this location accounted for 63.6 % of all non-fatal accidents among women whereas among men the share was 53.3 %. A similar pattern was observed for wholesale and retail trade and for manufacturing (although the gap was considerably narrower). A slightly larger proportion of non-fatal accidents among men (rather than women) occurred at their usual workstation or within the usual local unit of work within agriculture, forestry and fishing, as well as within transportation and storage, while for construction the shares for both sexes were identical.

Some of these gender differences may be linked to structural differences in the occupations that are carried out by men and women within an activity. For example, in construction a higher proportion of men (43.5 %) than women (29.3 %) experienced a non-fatal accident in occasional or mobile workstations or during a journey made on behalf of an employer, suggesting that men were more likely to work on external construction sites or to drive vehicles and that women were more likely to work in administrative or supporting roles within the local unit of work.

Figure 1: Non-fatal accidents at work, by workstation, sex and economic activity, EU-27, 2018
(% share)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_01)

Fatal accidents

In 2018, there were 3 300 fatal accidents at work in the EU-27. Among the fatal accidents at work for which the location of the accident was specified, the vast majority either took place in occasional or mobile workstations or during a journey made on behalf of an employer (34.6 %) or in the usual workstation or local work unit (33.2 % of the total). As for non-fatal accidents, a relatively small share (3.4 %) of fatal accidents at work took place at other workstations. For more than a quarter (28.8 %) of all fatal accidents at work in 2018 there was no information available for the location of the accident.

Fatal accidents were more likely than average to occur in occasional or mobile workstations or during a journey made on behalf of an employer within transportation and storage (52.5 %) and construction (44.3 %). Agriculture, forestry and fishing stands out as 7.5 % of fatal accidents at work took place at other workstations, which was more than double the average for all activities and 3.5 times as high as the next highest share among those activities shown (2.2 % within wholesale and retail trade).

Working environment

Non-fatal accidents

The analysis of accidents at work presented in Table 2 provides information concerning the type of working environment where accidents took place. In 2018, the highest share of non-fatal accidents at work occurred at industrial sites (31.7 %), followed by tertiary sites (17.3 %). Two other working environments accounted for close to one tenth of all non-fatal accidents: public areas (9.3 %) and construction sites, opencast quarries or mines (9.2 %). As might be expected, non-fatal accidents at work for certain activities were concentrated in particular working environments, such as industrial sites for manufacturing (77.3 % of the total for this activity), construction sites, opencast quarries or mines within construction (58.7 %), and farming, fish farming or forest zones for agriculture, forestry and fishing (66.5 %).

Table 2: Non-fatal and fatal accidents at work, by working environment and economic activity, EU-27, 2018
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_02)

Figure 2 provides a similar analysis for non-fatal accidents, with additional information by age. It shows that a higher proportion of accidents at work involving young persons (defined here as those aged less than 25 years) were on industrial sites, on construction sites, opencast quarries or mines, or on tertiary sites, whereas among older persons (defined here as those aged 55 years or more) non-fatal accidents at work were more likely (than for younger workers) to occur in public areas. These figures are influenced, at least to some degree, by the relative importance of each age group within the total workforce for different activities: for example, a relatively small number of older persons work in the construction sector.

Figure 2: Non-fatal accidents at work, by working environment, age and economic activity, EU-27, 2018
(% share)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_02)

Fatal accidents

Turning to fatal accidents at work, the highest shares took place in public areas (27.0 %), followed by accidents at industrial sites (19.9 %), construction sites, opencast quarries or mines (14.2 %) and farming, fish farming and forest zones (10.2 %). Looking at the selected NACE sections, the proportion of fatal accidents that took place in public areas was higher than the share of non-fatal accidents in public areas for each of the five activities shown in Table 2. A particularly high share of fatal accidents within transportation and storage took place in public areas (61.4 %). By contrast, compared with non-fatal accidents at work, the share of fatal accidents at work was particularly low at tertiary sites (4.3 % compared with 17.3 % for non-fatal accidents) and at industrial sites (19.9 % compared with 31.7 %).

Working process accidents

The information presented in Table 3 is related to the main type of work performed by the victims of accidents. In 2018, the most common working processes when a non-fatal accident at work took place in the EU-27 included production, manufacturing, processing or storing (10.5 % of all non-fatal accidents at work) and the provision of services to enterprises and/or the general public, including intellectual activities (6.7 %). Note that for almost three quarters (73.5 %) of non-fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 information on the working process was not available or was from a minor category (shown combined in Table 3).

As may be expected, certain working processes were more common as causes of non-fatal accidents in particular activities. For example: within agriculture, forestry and fishing there was a relatively high proportion of non-fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 that were linked to agricultural work, forestry, horticulture, fish farming or work with live animals (28.3 % of non-fatal accidents at work in this sector); within manufacturing, 24.8 % of non-fatal accidents at work occurred while involved in production, manufacturing, processing or storing; within construction 14.6 % of non-fatal accidents at work were linked to excavation, construction, repair or demolition work; within transportation and storage 10.5 % of non-fatal accidents at work were related to movement, sport or an artistic activity. These four combinations of economic activities and working processes also recorded the highest numbers of fatal accidents at work in the EU-27, ranging from 91 deaths in manufacturing related to production, manufacturing, processing or storing up to 187 deaths in transportation and storage related to movement, sport or an artistic activity.

Table 3: Non-fatal and fatal accidents at work, by working process and economic activity, EU-27, 2018
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_03)

Specific physical activity

Data relating to accidents at work by specific physical activity concern what the victim was doing at the exact time of an accident in contrast to the information by working process (as shown above) which describes the main task being performed over a more substantial period. Almost one fifth (17.9 %) of the non-fatal accidents that took place in the EU-27 in 2018 could be associated with the physical activity of movement (see Figure 3), while around one in eight (12.4 %) were linked to the handling of objects and one in eleven (8.9 %) to carrying something by hand.

The situation was quite different concerning fatal accidents at work in the EU-27, insofar as nearly one fifth (19.5 %) of all fatal accidents in 2018 took place while people were driving or on board transport or handling equipment, with the next highest share associated with movement (13.6 %).

Figure 3: Accidents at work, by specific physical activity and economic activity, EU-27, 2018
(% share)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_04)

Having identified that the highest share of fatal accidents at work in 2018 was linked to the specific physical activity of driving or being on board transport or handling equipment, Figure 4 shows more detailed information for this specific physical activity solely for the transportation and storage sector. Across the EU-27, some 10.2 % of all non-fatal accidents in the transportation and storage sector could be attributed to driving or being on board transport or handling equipment. A more detailed analysis reveals that around three tenths of non-fatal accidents in Slovenia, Romania and the Netherlands for the transportation and storage sector in 2018 were linked to driving or being on board transport or handling equipment, while shares of at least one in five were also recorded in Croatia, Bulgaria, Spain and Austria. By contrast, in Luxembourg and Finland, fewer than 1 in 10 non-fatal accidents in the transportation and storage sector resulted from driving or being on board transport or handling equipment; the lowest share was recorded in Lithuania (0.8 %).

Figure 4 also shows that there were nine EU Member States (among those for which data are available) where at least half of all fatal accidents within the transportation and storage sector in 2018 could be attributed to the specific physical activity of driving or being on board transport or handling equipment: Spain (75.7 %), Estonia (75.0 %), Slovenia (66.7 %), Hungary and Poland (both 54.6 %), Austria (52.9 %), Bulgaria (52.6 %), Romania (52.4 %) and Portugal (50.0 %). Seven Member States reported shares of at least one quarter but less than half, while Slovakia (12.5 %) and Lithuania (none) had the lowest shares of fatal accidents at work within the transportation and storage sector in 2018 attributed to driving or being on board transport or handling equipment.

Figure 4: Accidents at work within the transportation and storage sector — share from driving/being on board a means of transport or handling equipment, 2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_03)

Cause of accident

The cause of an accident is defined in terms of the last event differing from the norm that resulted in an accident. In 2018, the most common causes that triggered non-fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 included losing control of machines, tools or transport and handling equipment (20.9 % of the total), body movement under or with physical stress (19.1 %), and slipping, stumbling or falling (18.3 %). The share of non-fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 in 2018 for which no information on the cause is available was relatively small (14.4 %).

Losing control of machines, tools or transport and handling equipment was also the most common cause of fatal accidents at work, accounting for 29.3 % of the total number of workplace deaths in the EU-27 in 2018, while slipping, stumbling or falling (14.3 %) and the breakage, bursting or collapse of material agents (11.9 %) were the only other causes that accounted for double-digit shares of the total number of such accidents. The share of fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 in 2018 for which no information on the cause is available was more than one fifth (22.5 %).

Figure 5: Accidents at work, by cause and economic activity, EU-27, 2018
(% share)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_06)

Having identified that the highest number of non-fatal and fatal accidents at work in 2018 were caused by losing control of machines, tools or transport and handling equipment, Figure 6 shows more detailed information for this cause of accidents within the wholesale and retail trade sector. Some 26.1 % of all non-fatal accidents in the EU-27’s wholesale and retail trade sector in 2018 could be attributed to losing control of machines, tools or transport and handling equipment, a share that stood at 36.9 % when considering fatal accidents.

An analysis for the EU Member States based on data for 2018 reveals that more than two fifths of all non-fatal accidents in the wholesale and retail trade sectors of Slovenia, Austria and Germany were caused by losing control of machines, tools or transport and handling equipment. A similar analysis reveals that all fatal accidents in the Irish wholesale and retail trade sector could be attributed to losing control of machines, tools or transport and handling equipment, while the share in Hungary was 75.0 %, with Romania, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria and Lithuania all recording shares within the range of 50.0-60.0 %. A total of nine Member States reported no fatal accidents at work in the wholesale and retail trade sector that could be attributed to losing control of machines, tools or transport and handling equipment.

Figure 6: Accidents at work within the wholesale and retail trade sector — share from losing control of machines, tools, or transport and handling equipment, 2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_06)

Contact mode of injury

Data on accidents at work by contact mode of injury relate to how the victim of an accident was hurt by the material agent that caused their injury. If there are several modes of injury identified, then the one causing the most serious injury should be recorded. In 2018, the most common contact modes for non-fatal accidents in the EU-27 included: physical or mental stress (24.2 % of all non-fatal accidents); impact with a stationary object (in other words, the victim was in motion; 21.5 %); contact with a sharp/pointed or rough/coarse agent (15.0 %); and being struck by an object in motion/a collision (12.6 %). Note that for 13.1 % of non-fatal accidents there was no contact or information on the contact mode is not available. A similar analysis for fatal accidents reveals that the most common contact mode of injury was being struck by an object in motion/a collision (26.7 % of all fatal accidents in the EU-27), followed by impact with a stationary object (18.7 %) and being trapped or crushed (13.8 %). For 18.0 % of fatal accidents there was no contact or information on the contact mode is not available.

Within the transportation and storage sector, being struck by an object in motion accounted for almost half (44.5 %) of all fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 in 2018, while a relatively high share of fatal accidents within the wholesale and retail trade (31.0 %) were attributed to the same mode. By contrast, within the construction sector the most common mode of injury was the impact of a moving victim with a stationary object, which accounted for almost one quarter (23.8 %) of all non-fatal accidents in this sector in the EU-27 and close to three tenths (30.6 %) of all fatal accidents.

Figure 7: Accidents at work, by contact mode of injury and economic activity, EU-27, 2018
(% share)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_08)

This information is developed further in Figure 8 which presents a more detailed analysis of accidents in the construction sector resulting from an impact with a stationary object. This contact mode of injury accounted for almost half of all non-fatal accidents at work in the construction sector of Greece (49.4 %) in 2018, whereas the share was 16.8 % in France.

A similar analysis reveals that all (100.0 %) fatal accidents at work in the Maltese construction sector could be attributed to impact with a stationary object, as could 60.0 % of fatal accidents in the Irish construction sector and around half (47.6-50.0 %) of all fatal accidents in the construction sectors of Greece, Cyprus, Lithuania, Slovenia and Austria. No such accidents occurred from this mode of contact in 2018 in the construction sector in Slovakia. Note that for relatively small EU Member States, the absolute number of fatal accidents in this sector may be very small.

Figure 8: Accidents at work within the construction sector — share from impact with a stationary object (victim in motion), 2018
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_ph3_08)

Data sources

In December 2008, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation (EC) No 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 (EU) No 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.

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 traffic accidents (road or other means of transport) for journeys that are made during the course of work but excludes accidents that take place during a journey between home and the workplace.

There are nine variables related to causes and circumstances of accidents at work within the ESAW data collection. According to the ESAW Regulation, countries are free to choose at least three out of these nine variables on causes and circumstances and should report data for these (they may provide information on more than three variables if they choose to do so). As such, while the total coverage of the EU-27 is complete for each individual variable, the proportion of information that is not specified (included within the heading no information in tables and figures in this article) can vary greatly depending on how many and which Member States have provided detailed information. The complete list of nine variables covers: workstation; working environment; working process; specific physical activity; material agent associated with the specific physical activity; deviation; material agent associated with the deviation; contact — mode of injury; material agent associated with the contact — mode of injury.

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 of the accident taking place. Non-fatal accidents at work are defined as 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 may result in a considerable number of working days being lost within the EU’s economy.

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.

For more information on ESAW data please refer to the main article on accidents at work.

Context

A safe, healthy working environment is a crucial factor in an individual’s quality of life and is also a collective interest. 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.

For more information on health and safety at work policy, please refer to the main article on accidents at work.

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Health and safety at work (hsw)
Accidents at work (ESAW, 2008 onwards) (hsw_acc_work)
Causes and circumstances of accidents at work (ESAW Phase III) (hsw_ph3)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and workstation (hsw_ph3_01)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and working environment (hsw_ph3_02)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and working process (hsw_ph3_03)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and specific physical activity (hsw_ph3_04)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and material agent of specific physical activity (hsw_ph3_05)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and deviation (hsw_ph3_06)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and material agent of deviation (hsw_ph3_07)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and contact mode of injury (hsw_ph3_08)
Accidents at work by sex, age, severity, NACE Rev. 2 activity and material agent of contact mode injury (hsw_ph3_09)