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CEO's desk - December 23

30 November 2023

The HSE's latest annual work-related ill health and injury statistics have just been published and Alan Murray uses his column to summarise some of the key elements.

NOVEMBER HAS come and gone and as is normal that is the month that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes the annual “Health and safety at Work” summary statistics for Great Britain (GB). I thought that it would be useful to summarise some of the key elements to illustrate where we currently are.

The annual report that the HSE publishes helpfully follows a very similar format each year (with the exception of the now removed, temporary inclusion of coronavirus figures) which, I must admit does allow for straightforward year on year comparisons.

So what do the statistics tell us about the picture during 2022 and 2023.

Fatalities: The figure for fatal injuries this year is 135 and that is 12 more deaths than the 123 reported last year. Fatal injuries are obviously tragedies but the HSE report puts GB second only to Germany in the lowest number of fatalities per 100,000 workers across Europe. One always has to remember of course that this country does not have significant employment in the high-risk primary industries such as coal mining and steel.

The report highlights that there are still 12,000 work-related lung disease deaths each year, linked to past exposures at work. Occupational lung disease is still a major scourge and this illustrates the need to remain vigilant and fully risk assess respiratory hazards, today. At this point I would like to remember Mavis Nye who died recently from mesothelioma, believed to have been “contracted” during the cleaning of her husband’s work clothing many years ago. I pay tribute to Mavis and all the work of the Mavis Nye Foundation.

Workplace Injury: We see that non-fatal workplace injury continues to remain high with over 561,000 instances reported in the “Labour Force Survey”. RIDDOR reports illustrate 60,645 injuries slightly down on last year but still too high. The most common injuries occurred through slips, trips and falls on the same level, amounting to some 32% of all reported. Surely a case here for employers to specify the correct safety footwear for staff.

Handling, lifting and carrying injuries grew year on year amounting to 18% of reported injuries. All in all the non-fatal injuries cost 3.7 million work days to be lost. Although not reported specifically as injuries work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) cost the individual and the economy 6.6 million days!

Work-related ill health including MSD: This picture, though slightly improved on the prior year, is very concerning. With a total of 31.5 million working days lost with 1.8 million workers suffering from new or longer term work-related ill health. Of the total 875,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety!

Costs: The overall costs of injury and new work-related ill health are put at £20.7 billion (and this number excludes long latency conditions such as cancers). To put that in context the entire UK Government budget for “Defence” is £46 Billion. 

The lost days and the cost figures are quite staggering and can surely be brought down dramatically with the appropriate measures applied sensibly. Good safety and health is a legal and human right of course and these figure illustrate that getting it right is a financial, as well as moral, imperative. 

Work-related stress, depression and anxiety as you can see from the figures above are significant and improvements must be made in this area. Mental health is of course a very complex and challenging subject, often outside of the normal safety and health management discipline but we cannot lose focus on this, as mental ill-health has dire consequences for an individual, their families and friends and is the cause of 17.1 million lost working days in this country.

The Occupational Stakeholder Alliance (the Alliance of all the major safety and health stakeholders) will be taking up the initiative to support improvements in 2024. A major part of this programme will be the reach-out to organisations, to both make them aware of the situation and the undoubted benefits of successful engagement and to facilitate and enable the involvement of all the necessary functions including safety and health personnel, human resources, line managers and team leaders as drivers of improvement. Please watch out for this Alliance campaign.

In closing I wish you a happy, safe and healthy 2024.

Alan Murray is chief executive of BSIF. For more information, visit www.bsif.co.uk