Poor working conditions costing £20.7bn, and other key takeaways from the HSE’s latest statistics

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This week, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) published its statistics on work-related health and safety. In this insight we highlight some of the key points.

Poor working conditions are costing the UK billions.

According to the HSE, injuries and ill-health are costing the UK an estimated £20.7bn, with more than 30 million working days lost. At a time when the economy is facing some serious macro-economic challenges, businesses across all sectors need to examine their working conditions, as well as their compliance with applicable health and safety regulations, to ensure that the health, safety, and wellbeing of employees are prioritised. The costs of not doing so are significant.

Nearly half of work-related illness is due to poor mental health.

Anxiety, depression, and stress account for almost half of the 1.8 million reported work-related illnesses. This is compared to the 26% of individuals with a musculoskeletal disorder. Awareness of workplace culture is increasing, but this must be complemented by an extensive review of the physical and mental demands on employees. For example: is work adequately resourced? Do workers feel supported and are they properly trained for a task? Do they know where to go and what to do to report issues or risks? And are timelines for a particular piece of work reasonable? Getting these right improves employee health, safety and wellbeing both mentally and physically, and helps a business to increase its productivity over the long term.

Construction continues to account for the highest number of fatalities.

Earlier this year, the HSE reported that there had been 45 work-related fatal injuries in construction during 2022/23 – a 50% increase on the previous period. Post-covid, the industry faces numerous challenges, including tight deadlines, a reduced workforce, and limited budgets. Spot-checks by the HSE had also fallen by 32% over the last decade, perhaps tempting some employers to cut corners. Nevertheless, as our first point shows, poor, unsafe working conditions are expensive, leading to high levels of turnover, worker absence, and even regulatory intervention in more serious cases.

Falls from height remain the most common cause of fatal injury.

40 people were killed by falling from height during 2022/23, making this, once again, one of the most common causes of fatal injury. Working from height needs to be approached with the HSE’s hierarchy in mind, prioritising removing the need to work from height entirely. If this is not possible, the associated risks must be reduced and, as a final step, mitigated. All stakeholders need to be involved in managing the risks associated with working from height, from those initially designing or planning a project, to those responsible for ensuring the employee is adequately trained for the job. You can read more about how to assess and manage risk when working from height here.

Assessing risk means thinking long-term too.

Long-term health issues continue to cost lives, with more than 2,000 deaths due to past asbestos exposure reported by the HSE for this period. While working with hazardous materials is not always unavoidable, the long-term risks to employees can be mitigated by ensuring that suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided, and by rotating the workforce so that the same individuals are not carrying out tasks in hazardous areas for prolonged periods of time. As with most aspects of health and safety, however, designing out the risk entirely before work begins is the best approach.

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