Skip to main content
Report

We take a look at how safe workplaces have been in recent years following the HSE'S recent publication.

Summary

At a time when the health of the nation generally is at the forefront of people’s minds, we look at how safe workplaces have been in recent years following the recent publication of the HSE’s ‘Health and Safety at Work – summary statistics for Great Britain 2020’. The headline statistics are:

  • 111 fatal injuries to workers in 2019/2020;
  • 693,000 workers suffering non-fatal (self-reported) injuries (up from 581,000)
  • 65,427 non-fatal injuries to workers reported by employers in 2019/2020;
  • 1.6 million work-related ill health cases (new and longstanding) in 2019/2020 (up from 1.4million), together with
  • 828,000 work-related stress cases and 480,000 work-related musculoskeletal disorders;
  • 12,000 lung disease deaths per annum estimated to be linked to previous work exposures;
  • 38.8 million working days lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal injuries (up from 28.2million the previous year);

As well as the human suffering involved, all of this comes at a heavy price to the British economy, with the latest survey estimating an annual cost of £16.2 billion for work-related injury and ill-health (up from £15 billion). This can be broken down into costs of £10.6 billion for work-related ill-health (up from £9.8 billion) and £5.6 billion for the annual cost of workplace injury, an increase from £5.2 billion the previous year. These latest figures give rise to a number of unexpected concerns.

Workplace injury

The number of non-fatal RIDDOR-reported injuries has continued to fall this year, at 65,427 (down from 69,208 last year and 71,062 the previous year). Alongside the reduction in fatalities (from 147 to 111) -  this is a welcome trend, although it may be a symptom of the changes to RIDDOR made earlier in the past decade and a sign of a changing employment structure in the country.

The number of self-reported workplace non-fatal injuries per 100,000 workers has increased for the second time in a row: 693,000 workers compared to 581,000 workers last year and 555,000 in 2017/2018. This may suggest either more (albeit less serious) incidents occurring in the workplace in recent times or employees being increasingly encouraged to report them.

Combined with the sharp increase in estimated working days lost due to non-fatal, self-reported injuries of 6.3 million compared to 4.7 million last year and 3.9 million the year before that, and the consequent increases in the cost to the country, are worrying signs.

Disease

Occupational lung diseases appear to remain relatively stable, with around 12,000 lung disease deaths each year estimated to be linked to past exposures at work. Of those, just shy of 2,500 are thought to be mesothelioma. The predicted figures for mesothelioma now suggest the peak was 2020, so it will be interesting to see if this is borne out in next year’s figures.

The ‘volume’ industrial disease claims in more recent years, namely vibration and noise-related deafness cases both continue to show a generally downward trend, albeit there was a slight upturn in deafness in 2019/2020.

The area where there seems to be potential for a more significant upward trend in reporting is in relation to work-related stress, with figures slowly rising over the last five years, but with a significant upwards shift in the past 12 months. The new publication shows 828,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or longstanding) in 2019/2020 (significantly up from 602,000 in 2018/2019). Not only has there been a stark increase in reporting figures, but it is indicated that stress, depression or anxiety accounts for 51% of new and longstanding cases of work-related ill-health. With the radical changes and new challenges at work as a result of the pandemic, whether that be a change to long-term home-working, overworked staff covering for those on furlough, key workers attending work during lockdown or frontline health workers dealing with the impact of the disease, it will be interesting to see how next year’s figures in this regard are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which stress and wellbeing have continued to remain concerns for employers and employees alike.

Conclusion

Whilst the UK consistently has one of the lowest standardised rates of both fatal injury and work-related ill-health resulting in sick leave across the EU, and the continued fall in the number of fatalities in the latest publication is very welcome, the latest HSE statistics nevertheless do paint a worrying picture. The increase in costs to the economy, the significant number of working days lost due to work-related ill-health, the sharp rise in work-related ill-health and injury cases and marked increase in work-related stress claims over the past 12 months are causes for concern which need to be closely monitored and controlled by employers to prevent a reversal of the previous long-term downward trends. Now is the time to revisit risk assessments, safety policies, processes and staff culture. Bearing in mind that these statistics conclude in March 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 national lockdown, we can expect next year’s figures to highlight an overall reduction in incidents, given that many workplaces have been closed for much of this year, but perhaps a continuing increase in reported stress in particular, with the increase in employees working in less than ideal circumstances over the past year.

Share on Twitter