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UK work-related sickness total rises by 100,000

The number of workers with work-related illnesses rose from 1.2 million to 1.3 million employees in the 12 months to 31 March 2016, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Around 80% of these illnesses were musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) or stress, depression or anxiety. The number of new cases of illness reported during the 12 months was 500,000, equal to the previous period.

Some 30.4 million working days were lost to injury or ill health in 2015-16: 25.9 million days due to work-related illness and 4.5 million days due to workplace injury. This is up from 27.3 million in the previous 12 months is the highest since 2007-08. 

These figures are drawn from the government’s quarterly Labour Force Survey (LFS) and make up part of the HSE’s Health and Safety Statistics: 2015/16 annual release on work-related injury, ill-health, enforcement and costs, which was published yesterday.

Over two-fifths (539,000) of the 1,311,000 workers with work-related illnesses had MSDs. The number of new cases of work-related MSDs in 2015-16 was 176,000. The incidence rate of 550 cases per 100,000 workers is not significantly different from the previous year and has been mainly static for the last five years.

A further 488,000 workers were suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, a prevalence rate of 1,510 per 100,000. The number of new cases was 224,000, an incidence rate of 690 per 100,000 workers. The number and rate have been broadly flat for more than ten years.

The main factors cited by LFS respondents as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and not enough support from managers. The HSE found stress was more widespread in public service industries, such as education, health and social care, and public administration and defence.

Stress, depression or anxiety, and MSDs accounted for the majority of days lost due to work-related ill health – 11.7 million and 8.8 million days respectively.

LFS data revealed that an estimated 621,000 self-reported non-fatal injuries occurred in 2015-16 (a rate of 2,030 per 100,000 workers, broadly level over the last five years). Of these accidents, 152,000 resulted in absences that exceeded seven days.

There were 72,702 employee non-fatal injuries reported by employers under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations), down from 76,000 in the previous 12 months.

As reported in IOSH Magazine in July, there were 144 fatal workplace injuries in 2015-16 reported to the HSE and local authorities compared with 142 in the previous year. Despite a long-term downward trend in the rate of total injury, the HSE said it is beginning to show signs of levelling off. Over a quarter (26%) of workplace deaths were accounted for by falls from height.

The economic cost of work-related injuries and illnesses in 2014-15, excluding long latency illness such as cancer, was £14.1bn. Work-related illness attributed to £9.3bn of this total (an equivalent of £17,600 per case). Workplace injuries made up the remaining £4.8bn (equivalent to £1.6m per fatal injury and £7,400 for every non-fatal injury).  This figure has been broadly level since 2010-11.

Announcing the release of its latest statistics, the HSE tweeted: “With stats like these […] ask yourself if your firm’s health agenda can be improved #helpgbworkwell.”

Commenting on the figures, HSE chair Martin Temple said: “We should all be proud of Great Britain’s health and safety record. However, there is more to do, particularly in tackling work-related health, from which everyone can benefit.”

Keeley Downey is assistant editor of IOSH Magazine

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