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Health and safety at work: what can we learn from the latest HSE report?

Health and safety at work: what can we learn from the latest HSE report?

By Darren Hockley, MD at eLearning company DeltaNet International.

Darren Hockley

Darren Hockley

The HSE recently published its providing statistics on work-related ill health and injuries. The report highlights the financial costs to Britain and breaks down the data by industry.

In addition, the report compares the UK with other European countries and presents statistics on the number of companies that have been prosecuted as a result of a negligent approach to health and safety at work.

This article will address the highlights of the report whilst evaluating its contents. It will also provide practical advice on how to ensure that health and safety is a priority issue in your workplace.

Work-related stress, depression, or anxiety is on the rise

There has been a gradual increase in the rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression, or anxiety over the past few years: whilst there were  this increased to 602,000 in 2018-19. Despite this increase, the number of working days lost due to stress, depression, or anxiety fell from 15.4 million to 12.8 million.

The reduction in the number of working days lost in spite of the increase in the frequency of reported cases could be attributed to several different factors. Depending on your point of view, this trend could be interpreted in a positive or negative light.

On the one hand, these statistics could indicate that UK employers are becoming more aware of work-related mental health issues and more adept at helping employees to cope; on the other hand, this could suggest that employees are continuing to work even though they are not in a fit mental state to do so, putting themselves at serious risk of burnout.

Broken down by industry, the prevalence rates for work-related stress, depression, or anxiety show that these conditions are most common in the public administration and defence sector – 2.50% of workers in this area were affected, compared to 2.12% in health and social work and 1.94% in education.

The HSE’s statistics on the leading causes of work-related stress, depression, or anxiety are also revealing. 44% of those affected attributed their condition to excessive workload, whilst 14% associated their mental condition with a lack of support from employers and 13% felt that violence, threats, or bullying were the primary issue.

From a pastoral perspective, then, it’s clear that businesses need to pay attention to their employees’ workloads and monitor any cases of reported violence, threats, or bullying very closely. It’s also important to create a working culture in which people feel that they can speak out and to show full support to employees who confide in their managers about stress or bullying.

Non-fatal workplace injury is on the decline but 147 workers were killed at work during the last year

Aside from mental health, the report provides illuminating data on the frequency of workplace injuries in the UK over the past year. Promisingly, the rates of both non-fatal and fatal injury are showing a downward trend in the long term. Non-fatal injuries have seen the most substantial decrease in recent years.

The most common cause of non-fatal injury was a slip, trip, or fall on the same level (29%) – falls from a height were much less frequent at 8%. Injuries related to handling, lifting, or carrying were the next most common at 20%, followed by employees being struck by a moving object at 10%. The fact that these types of avoidable injury are occurring less often shows that employers are taking a more diligent approach to preventing them.

That said, a worrying trend identified by the non-fatal injury statistics is that workers are just as likely to be injured through acts of violence as falls from a height, with 8% of incidences being attributed to both causes. Clearly, it is vital that employers adopt a zero-tolerance policy to any form of violence in the workplace and educate employees on the issue.

As you can see from the graph below, the rate of fatal injuries at work has decreased fairly consistently over the past 20 years. Whilst this is promising, the number of work-related deaths has plateaued in recent years, with 147 workers being killed during 2018-19.

Source: HSE 2019

The statistics on fatal injuries are also broken down by industry and cause. 21.8% of deaths were in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries, followed by 20.4% in construction and 17.7% in manufacturing. Falls from a height were the most common cause of death at 40%, with 30% of workers being killed by a moving vehicle and 16% by a moving object. Companies should consider the prevention of these types of death to be a health and safety priority.

There were fewer prosecutions related to health and safety at work than in previous years

One of the key findings of the HSE report was that the number of prosecutions related to health and safety at work fell from 493 in 2017-18 to 364 in 2018-19, resulting in an astonishing decrease of £18.1 million in the amount that companies were fined. Combined with the statistics on decreasing non-fatal injuries, this data suggests that employers are tackling health and safety issues more effectively.

Overall, however, the cost of work-related injury and new cases of ill health in 2018-19 was £15 billion, the same figure as the previous year. The statistics show that 57.3% of these costs are incurred by individual employees themselves. Given that non-fatal injuries have decreased by a significant margin, the average financial cost of incidents must have increased.

Whilst many of the statistics in the report are promising for health and safety in the UK, the consistently high cost of work-related injury and new cases of ill health highlights the need for businesses to prioritise the wellbeing of their employees. Based on the report, particularly areas to focus on include the promotion of mental wellbeing at work and the prevention of non-fatal incidents such as falls or slips.

Workplace training is one of the most important ways companies ought to invest in their workforce. We know it builds and broadens employees’ skill sets, but it also empowers people to take control of their own health and safety by informing them of their rights and responsibilities. Employees that have a clear understanding about risk assessment and mitigation will be more likely to protect their own wellbeing and speak up if they spot a hazard.

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