Although there have been significant improvements over the last 13 years, the U.S. workplace fatality rate per 100,000 people remains at a significantly higher level than in most European countries.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 people in 2016, making U.S. workplaces 9 times more deadly than British workplaces. Britain currently has a workplace fatality rate of 0.4.
A 2017 report by the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveals that many E.U. countries perform better than the U.S. – reporting much lower numbers of workplace fatalities. In fact, a long list of countries with lower GDPs per capita are outperforming the U.S. and proving to be much less deadly for workers. These include Latvia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, and Portugal. A workplace fatality rate of 3.6 puts the U.S. on a par with less economically developed European countries like Romania and Bulgaria.
Of course, this is much better than the 1999 U.S. workplace fatality rate of 5.3 per 100,000, reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, this figure also included traffic accidents, which the 3.6 figure omits.
The same WHO report tells us that the UK’s workplace fatality rate was 1.4 in 1999 (including traffic incidents). The UK’s fatality rate has fallen significantly faster than the U.S. rate, and this is the case in many other places. The Netherlands has gone from a rate of 3.1 to 0.9, Sweden’s rate has fallen from 6.2 to 0.6, Spain has gone from 10.2 to 1.5, and Estonia has greatly improved, going from a rate of 11.6 to 0.75.
Figuring out how to remedy this imbalance is the next challenge that the U.S. faces. There are many reasons why the E.U. has safer workplaces than the U.S. The E.U. has more safety regulations, and there have been many improvements in workplace safety in European countries which have moved from communism to capitalism. The UK Labour government also spent a lot on health and safety from 1997 until 2009, which correlated with lower workplace fatality rates. However, it is not clear if these factors are direct causes. Although fatality rates in the UK have plateaued since 2009, when the Conservative government cut spending, this plateau could have been due to a lack of new technological breakthroughs in safety equipment, or the recession.
The government certainly hasn’t been a major factor in the U.S, where changes in the president have made little difference to the number of workplace fatalities; in 2003, 5,575 Americans died at work, while in 2016, 5,190 Americans died at work.
The U.S.’ high workplace fatality rate will be a complicated issue to solve. Although progress has recently stalled, figures have at least improved since 1970, when 38 American workers died at work each day. In 2016, this figure had fallen to 16. However, this 58% decrease does not compare to the UK’s fatality decrease of 85%, and there is still some way to go before the U.S. reduces the risk to workers as much as numerous E.U. countries have managed to.