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The State of Health and Safety in 2016: What’s Changed Since 2015?

12 January 2017

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With 2017 now well underway, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s happened in the field of workplace health and safety. With the Government having released its ‘Health and Safety at Work’ summary statistics for 2016, we thought it would be useful to compare last year’s figures to this year’s to assess what has changed – for the good and the bad.

Here are some of the HSE’s key statistics for 2015/16, along with how the numbers compare to 2014/15.

Less illness…?

During 2015/16, 1.3 million workers suffered from a new or long-standing work-related illness. Of this number, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and stress, depression or anxiety were the biggest offenders, each affecting 500,000 workers respectively.

This figure was down slightly from the 2 million workers who suffered from an illness they believed to be work related in 2014/15.

There were 14,000 new cases of lung or breathing problems this year, as well as an estimated 13,000 deaths linked to past workplace exposures, such as dust and chemicals. Some 2,515 deaths were caused by mesothelioma in 2015/16 – slightly less than last year’s 2,538, but still a worryingly high figure.

Injury rate remains flat

According to self-reports from the 2015/16 Labour Force Survey, there were 600,000 non-fatal injuries to workers in the past 12 months. Figures from last year’s Labour Force Survey, meanwhile, show a similar 611,000 self-reported injuries during 2014/15.

There were 144 fatal injuries in 2015/16, compared to 142 in 2014/15. So on the whole, workplace injury remained broadly flat over the two-year period.

Increased work-related mental illness

As mentioned, self-reports from the Labour Force Survey suggest that 500,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, anxiety or depression over the past 12 months. This is slightly higher than the 440,000 self-reported cases in 2014/15, suggesting that stress and mental illness is a growing concern in the workplace and something employers need to address.

Musculoskeletal disorders still a problem

Many jobs are sedentary, requiring workers to sit for long periods of time. In 2014/15, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) were the most common type of work-related illness reported by doctors, cited by just under 50% of GPs. There was a similar pattern this year, with MSDs making up the largest type (50%) of new cases reported by GPs.

More days lost…

In 2015/16, 30.4 million working days were lost as the result of work-related illness and non-fatal injuries. That’s up 3.1 million days from last year, when there were 27.3 million days lost due to work-related ill health or injury.

 

However, injuries made up a smaller proportion of lost days in 2015/16, accounting for 14.8% (4.5 million) of lost days, as opposed to 13.8% (4.1 million) in 2014/15.

…but lower economic costs

For the financial year 2014/15, the combined annual cost of workplace injury and work-related illness (excluding long-term illness such as cancer) cost the economy a combined total of £14.1 billion.

In the previous financial year (2013/14) the combined cost of injuries and new cases of illness relating to working conditions cost the economy an estimated £14.3 billion. That means there has been slightly less of a dent in the nation’s wallet caused by absence – but only by a fraction.

Fewer prosecutions…

There were 660 cases prosecuted by the HSE for health and safety breaches – or referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS ) – that resulted in a conviction in 2015/16, compared with 728 cases in 2014/15.

In terms of notices issued by all enforcing bodies – including the HSE and local authorities – there were 11,403; that’s down slightly from last year’s 12,430 total enforcement notices, which in itself was down 10% from the previous year.

…but more money paid in fines

Of the prosecutions instituted by the HSE in 2015/16, a total of £38.3 million was issued in fines. In the year previous, however, a total of £19 million was issued. So despite there being fewer prosecutions and enforcement notices during the last 12 months, the fines themselves were weightier.

The past 12 months have witnessed a series of positives – such as a reduced financial impact from lost working days – and negatives, such as an increase in mental illness. Certain issues, such as musculoskeletal disorders, remain; hopefully, these will start to be resolved in 2017.

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