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Stress overtakes MSDs in Britain’s workplaces, says HSE

The prevalence rate of work-related stress and mental health problems among workers in Great Britain rose in 2016-17 to 1,610 per 100,000 workers, according to the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) injury and ill health statistics. This is the highest rate for at least the past 11 years.


The figures, which are drawn from the quarterly Labour Force Survey and other sources and produced by the Office of National Statistics, show that the number of workers who said they experienced stress, depression or anxiety was up 7% on the previous period, from 488,000 (a rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers) to 526,000. In 2014-15, 440,000 workers reported a mental health problem caused or made worse by employment.

There were 236,000 reports of new cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016-17, which corresponds to an incidence rate of 720 per 100,000 workers, 4.3% up on the 2015-16 figure of 690 per 100,000 workers.    

The condition has overtaken musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as the most commonly reported work-related illness. There were 507,000 cases of MSDs in 2016-17, 39% of the total, and a rate of 1,550 cases per 100,000 workers. This lower than the rate of 1,670 in 2015-16. 

The rate of self-reported work-related MSDs has shown a generally downward trend, the HSE said.

The HSE’s annual statistics release shows that there were 609,000 non-fatal injuries in 2016-17, 175,000 of which resulted in people taking more than seven days off work. Around 5.5 million working days were lost due to non-fatal workplace injuries during that time, the LFS estimates. 

Handling, lifting or carrying, and slips, trips and falls accounted for almost 40% of non-fatal injuries to workers. In contrast, these contributed to only 2% of fatal injuries over the period 2012-13 to 2016-17. Falls from height – the most common cause of fatal injury to workers over the past five years – accounted for just 7%. 

The rate of non-fatal workplace injuries per 100,000 workers has halved since 2000-01, the HSE said, but has remained broadly flat in recent years. 

In the manufacturing industry, the overall rate per 100,000 workers of non-fatal injuries that led to an absence of more than seven days fell in 2016-17, concealing a rise in several subcategories. In chemicals and chemical products manufacturing, for example, this figure rose 10% to 191. And in basic metal production, the rate of injuries that resulted in more than seven days off work increased 7.2% to 697. 

As reported in IOSH Magazine in July, there were 137 fatal workplace injuries in 2016-17 compared with 144 in the previous year and 142 the year before that.

Chair of the HSE Martin Temple said: “These latest figures should act as a spur to reduce the impact of ill-health and injury on Britain’s workforce and businesses and we cannot rest on our reputation.” 

Occupational lung diseases, including asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, accounted for around 12,000 of the 13,000 total deaths estimated to be linked to past exposures at work, the HSE said.  

In 2015, 2,542 people died from mesothelioma and a similar number died from lung cancer linked to past exposures to asbestos. There are projected to be around 2,500 mesothelioma deaths per year for the rest of the decade before the numbers begin to decline. 

Breaking down the stress-related illness by sector, the HSE found it was more widespread in public service industries, such as education, health and social care, and public administration and defence. 

Skilled trades, elementary occupations, and process plant and machine operatives had statistically significantly lower rates of work-related mental health problems at 460, 760 and 620 cases per 100,000 workers respectively.

The figures also show that men are less likely than women to report a mental health problem. Over the past three years, the average prevalence rate for work-related stress, depression or anxiety for men was 1,170 compared with 1,880 for women per 100,000 workers. 

Men were more likely to have an MSD than women, with 1,730 and 1,560 cases per 100,000 workers respectively, averaged over the three-year period 2014-15 to 2016-17. 

Workplace injuries and ill health cost Britain £14.9bn last year.


Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine

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