How common are accidents in the military workplace?

Considering all the potential dangers that members of the armed forces encounter in the course of their normal work, for instance in handling firearms and munitions, explosives, specialist vehicles, fast-roping, undertaking demanding physical training and playing sports, the number of accidents reported annually in recent years are relatively low. In 2010-11 the military reported the following accidents to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE):

• 1 fatality (due to a fall from height).

• 83 major injuries (the vast majority caused by slips and trips and rest as a result of manual and other handling, being hit by an object, falls, vehicles, animals and harmful substances).

• 181 over 3 day injuries, a third of which were caused by slips and trips and the remainder, in slightly different proportions, caused by the same factors as for major injuries.

Of course one accident is an accident too many but the gradually declining numbers of accidents in all reportable categories indicate that the Ministry of Defence is continuing to improve its expertise in risk management.

The statistics reported above only include injuries serious enough to require reporting to the HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 and do not provide any indication of how many injuries in total are suffered by people working in the military which do not fall into that category. Fortunately, for the purposes of this article, a 2011 study for the US National Institute of Health (NIH) provides a snapshot of what could be considered a representative example of injury rates and risk factors for 660 British infantry soldiers sampled undergoing standard pre-deployment training. Additionally, data compiled by the Defence Analytical Services & Advice organisation indicates a markedly higher number of fatalities (non combat) and major injuries than appear in the HSE figures.

The NIH study found that in the course of the training 58.5% of the soldiers suffered one or more injuries. 71% of those injuries were to the lower body, including 14% to the lower back, 19% to the knees and 15% to ankles. 83% of the total injuries were blunt trauma injuries. The injuries were sustained thus:

    • 30% physical training
    • 26% general training/work
    • 22% playing sports
    • 22% other causes

95% of the sample stated that they had previously suffered lower body and specifically lower back injuries during their period of service.

These statistics, if we choose to consider them as a representative sample of the injuries and risks experienced by the military as a whole, suggest that HSE reported injuries might represent just the tip of an enormous unreported and uncompensated injury iceberg.

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