Work-related injury and ill-health | HSE’s annual statistics for 2018/19

As it does at the end of October each year, the HSE has now published its annual report revealing the extent of work-related injury and ill-health in Great Britain in 2018/19.

In addition to quantifying incidences of injury and ill-health, the report, titled Health and safety at work: Summary statistics for Great Britain 2019, also includes statistics pertaining to working days lost, enforcement action taken, and the associated costs to Great Britain.

Here are some of the salient points from this year’s release.

Workplace fatalities

Back in July, the HSE released its annual report on workplace fatalities in Great Britain. According to the data, taken from RIDDOR, 147 workers died as a result of workplace injury in the 12 months leading up to March 2019. The data at the time was provisional and subject to change by up to +/-3% – and it often does – however, this latest report confirms that the initial figure was correct. This represents a marginal increase on the 144 workers killed at work in 2017/18.

Nick Wilson, Director of Health and Safety Services at Ellis Whittam, says:

“The loss of even one life at work is not acceptable, and a concerted effort is needed to ensure workers return home safely at the end of the working day. While the number of fatalities has been brought down over the past decades, it has now plateaued, raising the question of what more can be done. While advances have been made in technical risk-control measures and other practical ways of making the workplace safer, employers’ attention should perhaps turn to focusing on people’s behaviour in the workplace as human error is cited in most accidents.”

Work-related ill health

According to the Labour Force Survey, which is based on the self-reports of people who worked in the last 12 months, there were an estimated 1.4 million cases of work-related ill health, either new or longstanding, in 2018/19. This mirrors the figure for 2017/18.

The two biggest contributors to this were stress, depression and anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders.

Work-related stress, depression or anxiety:

  • Affected 602,000 workers in 2018/19, 246,000 of which were new cases;
  • Was found to be the number one cause of ill health, accounting for almost half (44%) of all ill health cases;
  • Was found to be the number one cause of working days lost due to ill health (responsible for 12.8 million working days lost or 54% of the total days lost due to ill health);
  • Was found to be most common in the public admin/defence, human health and social work, and education sectors.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders:

  • Affected 498,000 workers in 2018/19, 138,000 of which were new cases;
  • Was found to be the second highest cause of ill health, accounting for 37% of all ill health cases;
  • Was found to be the second highest cause of working days lost due to ill health (responsible for 6.9 million working days lost or 29% of the total days lost due to ill health);
  • Was found to be most common in the construction; agriculture, forestry and fishing, and human health and social work sectors.

Both the rate of self-reported work-related ill health and the number of working days lost per worker shows a generally downward trend but has remained broadly static in recent years.

Nick Wilson, Director of Health and Safety Services at Ellis Whittam, says:

“It is a sign of the times that stress has overtaken musculoskeletal disorders in recent years to become the number one cause of work-related ill health. The two stand out well above all other causes of poor health – likely due to the fact that they are not sector-specific in nature – and employers should ensure they are high on their list of priorities”.

Non-fatal workplace injury

According to self-reports, workers sustained 581,000 non-fatal injuries in 2018/19, up 4.7% from the 555,000 injuries reported through the Labour Force Survey last year. These non-fatal injuries resulted in a combined estimate of 4.7 million working days lost.

Added to the 23.5 million working days lost due to ill health, this means a total of 28.2 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries in 2018/19. This represents a 8.1% improvement on 2017/18.

Of the 581,000 estimated self-reported injuries:

  • 138,000 resulted in absence of over seven days;
  • 69,208 were reported by employers under RIDDOR (roughly the same as last year’s 71,062);
  • 29% were as a result of slips, trips or falls;
  • 20% were caused by handling, lifting or carrying; and
  • 10% were due to being struck by a moving object.

While there is a small increase in overall injury numbers, the rate of non-fatal injuries (both self-reported and reported by employers) shows an overall downward trend since the year 2000.

Nick Wilson, Director of Health and Safety Services at Ellis Whittam, says:

“Unlike machine work, for example, slips, trips and falls and manual handling are a part of everyday life in most workplaces, so it is hardly surprising that they are consistently amongst the highest reported non-fatal injuries. While employers may see these accident types as low risk, they can incur costs related to absence, fines and reputational damage”.

Costs to Britain

The financial costs of poor health and safety practices are often grossly underestimated, and individual injuries or bouts of ill health have much wider implications for employers and society as a whole.

Estimates based on the HSE Costs to Britain Model suggests that:

  • Work-related injury and new cases of ill health cost Britain £15 billion in 2017/18, the same figure estimated for 2016/17.
  • While employers often prioritise safety over health, of this total cost, £9.8 billion (65%) was attributed to ill health.
  • The cost to employers amounted to £3 billion, caused predominantly by loss of output, with a further £3.4 billion shouldered by the government and £8.6 billion by individuals.

Injury and ill health by industry

The industries in which there was found to be a higher risk of injury served to reflect the longstanding picture, with construction and agriculture still amongst the highest-risk sectors. Other industries where the average injury rate per 100,000 workers was found to be significantly higher than the industry average include:

  • Public administration/defence;
  • Wholesale/retail trade/repair of motor vehicles;
  • Accommodation/food service activities; and
  • Manufacturing.

Compared to picture for work-related injury, instances of ill health are more consistent between sectors. Reflecting the sectors where work-related stress, depression and anxiety was found to be highest, those where the overall rate of ill health is significantly higher than average include:

  • Public administration/defence;
  • Human health/social work; and
  • Education.

Enforcement

The report also provides annual statistics relating to the enforcement action taken by the HSE. Data up to March 2019 reveals that:

  • The number of prosecution cases resulting in a conviction is down 9%, from 485 in 2017/18 to 364 to 2018/19.
  • The number of enforcement notices issued is also down 2.2%, from 8,975 to 8,777.
  • In terms of sentencing outcomes, 78% of cases resulted in a fine, with 12% of cases dealt with by way of an immediate or suspended custodial sentence.
  • There was a drop in the total value of fines from £71.6 million to £54.5 million (as the level of fines hasn’t changed, this serves to reflect the fall in the number of cases completed in 2018/19).
  • The largest fine imposed has risen from £525,000 in 2014/15 (the last full year before sentencing guidelines were introduced) to £3 million – an increase of 471%.
  • 36 cases received fines of £500,000 or more, compared to just five cases in 2014/15.
  • The average level of fine has increased 381% since sentencing guidelines were introduced, from £27,000 per conviction in 2014/15 to £130,000 per conviction.

Nick Wilson

Director of Health & Safety Services

Expert Comment

The latest statistics once again provide compelling evidence of the importance of managing health and safety in the workplace. Not only do the injuries and ill-health incidents cause loss and distress to those affected, but the commercial ramifications to businesses are significant and can be seen in sizeable fines being handed down by the criminal courts.