Number of workplace accidents dropped significantly in 2020, fatalities higher

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 February, 2021 at 12:16 pm by Andre Camilleri

The number of accidents at the workplace dropped drastically in 2020 compared to 2019, statistics issued by the National Statistics Office show.

In 2020, 2,328 non-fatal accidents were reported significantly lower than the 3,258 reported in 2019 and the 3,252 in 2018. This could possibly be due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as many workplaces had shifted working practices, among other things, due to the outbreak of the virus.

In terms of fatal accidents at work, there were three registered in the first half of last year and four between July and December. In all of 2019, three people had died in workplace accidents.

 The majority of workplace accidents took place in construction (406) and manufacturing (391) jobs. Of the 2,328 non-fatal accidents, the largest number of injuries were categorised as wounds and superficial (1,394), while 522 injuries were dislocations, sprains and strains. Of the more severe injuries registered, two were traumatic amputations, 35 were concussions and internal injuries.

When contacted by this newsroom, the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OSHA) CEO Dr Mark Gauci expressed that caution is required when interpreting such data. He explained

 “The usual caution is advised when trying to interpret statistical data – the apparent increase in the number of fatalities occurring during 2020, should not be equated with a reversal of the persistent downward trend measured over a number of years  It should be understood that since the number of fatal accidents occurring in Malta is relatively small (from a statistical point of view), it is bound to change from one year to another. Hence the need to use rates (and not gross figures) and consider changes over time (to identify trends). The spread of fatalities registered last year highlights the fact that several industrial sectors and work activities are associated with high levels of risk. Furthermore, and although they result in occupational fatalities, not all areas of activity are regulated by the OHS Authority Act – such areas include the safety of buildings or demolition activities and vehicular use on public roads, which are regulated by different pieces of legislation. As occupational injuries are concerned, the numbers are markedly lower than those obtained in the previous years.

The fact that several workers were working from home probably has a bearing, leading to a decrease in the number of injuries. Still, the Covid-19-effect does not uniquely explain the decline as work in traditional high-risk sectors continued practically unabated. The data published by the National Statistics Office compares very well with those published by EUROSTAT. Contrary to public perception, Malta has one of the lowest accident rates in all of the EU. This fact should not lead to complacency or for anyone to rest on one’s laurels, but should motivate all to continue working to reduce the numbers of accidents further.”

Speaking to The Malta Business Weekly, Director-General of Malta Employers Association, Joseph Farrugia, echoed Dr Gauci’s sentiments and added the number of fatalities is a worrying sign.

“The fact that the number of work-related injuries fell considerably in 2020 compared to 2019 is a positive sign, but which has to be interpreted within the context of Covid-19 and the consequent slowdown in economic activity. The 28 per cent decrease in accidents at the workplace is certainly partially a reflection of the pandemic, as fewer days were worked.

There could be other factors that also played a part, amongst them more people working from home, less traffic and hopefully more awareness about health and safety at the workplace. One notes that the figures for the preceding two years – 2018 and 2019 – were almost identical. However, the number of fatal accidents in 2020, standing at 7 in the first three quarters compared to just three for the whole of 2019 is a worrying sign. It implies that there is still much more to be done – in terms of education, work practices and enforcement – to have safer workplaces.

As expected, a considerable number of accidents occurred in the manufacturing and construction sectors. Manufacturing has experienced a decline, but activity in construction did not abate last year. During 2020 hardly any accidents were reported in tourism-related sectors due to the cessation of activity in most of these establishments, which may have affected the overall number of accidents.”

The workplace incidence rate for the whole year was 889 non-fatal accidents per 100,000 employed persons. The highest standardised incidence rate of non-fatal accidents at work was recorded in construction, followed by manufacturing and transportation and storage.

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