Health and safety at work, HSE release 2020 statistics – further analysis

Greg Davies

Greg Davies
Director of Market Development, Assurity Consulting
13th November 2020

The headline figures continue to confirm Great Britain is amongst the safest places in the World to work. But how have the findings been affected by the influence of the COVID-19 disruptions (and of course it’s wider health implications), and what about the longer-term trends? 

The key figures for Great Britain (2019/20 and their 2018/19 comparisons showed): 

  1. 1.6 million working people suffering from a work-related illness, compared to 1.4 million in 2018/19 - up by 200,000 (14%);
  2. 2,446 mesothelioma deaths due to past asbestos exposures (2018), compared to 2,526 in 2018/19 - down by 80 (4%);
  3. 111 workers killed at work, compared to 147 in 2018/19 - down by 36 (25%);
  4. 693,000 working people sustained an injury at work according to the Labour Force Survey compared to 581,000 in 2018/19 - up by 112,000 (19%);
  5. 65,427 injuries to employees reported under RIDDOR, compared to 69,208 in 2018/19 - down by 3,781 (6%);
  6. 38.8 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury, compared to 28.2 million in 2018/19 - up by 10.6 million (37%)
  7. £16.2 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2018/19) compared to £15 billion in 2017/18 – up by £1.2 billion (8%)

The reductions in workplace fatalities and RIDDOR reported injuries – at 25% and 6% respectively – continue an overall downward trend in workplace injuries since 2001/02, although these had plateaued in recent years. However, the Labour Force Survey paints a different picture with a 19% increase in working people sustain an injury.

Slips, trips or falls (on same level) and handling, lifting or carrying account for the majority (48%) of the most common non-fatal injuries to employees (as reported by employers). Work related musculoskeletal disorders (new and long-standing) have also reduced since the turn of the century, although upper limbs/neck and back still account for over 80% of the affected areas reported in 2019/20.

The 14% increase in people suffering from a work-related illness, continues the unwelcome and growing issues around stress, depression and anxiety. These, in total, account for almost half of the 38.8 million days lost due to work related ill-health and injury.

While asbestos related mesothelioma deaths have also reduced by 4%, new cases of occupational lung disease are rising. COPD and non asbestos related lung cancers are now contributing to 57% of the estimated annual deaths associated with lung disease.

In assessing the effects COVID-19 have had on the statistics the HSE have reported: 

“Untangling the multiple effects of COVID-19 is extremely difficult although we have investigated two of HSE’s main statistical data sources, namely the Labour Force Survey and workplace injury reports made by employers under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations (RIDDOR). Initial analysis detailed below has found that the emergence of COVID-19 as a national health issue over the first quarter of 2020 does not appear to be the main driver of changes seen in the 2019/20 data, though it is possible that COVID-19 may be a contributory factor.”

One thing COVID-19 has done is re-focussed attention on public health as well as workplace health and safety. So future employee expectations could change as a result. It is also clear that both mental health and the impact of a more agile and changing workforce will cause challenges for organisations both as we come out of the pandemic and in the “new normal” beyond.

What is also true however is that those already managing their health and safety effectively will be better equipped to deal with and manage these challenges.