Research: 32.5m Working Days Were Lost Due to Illness and Accidents at Work in 2019/20

November 9, 2020
Caroline Preece

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released its latest figures on workplace injury and ill-health, revealing that 32.5 million working days were lost in the UK during the 2019/20 period due to accidents, long-term injury and ill-health.

This translates to 1.6 million workers suffering from ill-health brought on by workplace-related factors. The most prevalent examples of work-related ill-health can fit into four categories:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Occupational lung disease
  • Workplace Injury
  • Work-related stress, depression or anxiety

Despite this, Britain remains one of the safest places to work in the world, with a rate of 0.52 fatal injuries per 100,000 employees. This sits significantly below Germany (0.7), Poland (0.81), Italy (0.93), Spain (1.7) and France (3.0).

Here we will take a look at these figures and ask both how health and safety legislation in the UK may be keeping workplace fatalities at a comparatively low level, and how leaders can go even further to protect their employees.

Costs of accidents at work in the UK

The figures published in the report demonstrate that an estimated £16.2 billion was lost in the period of 2018/19 due to work-related injury and ill-health (including long-term illness such as cancer). Injuries, even taken alone, cost business £5.6 billion. 

Outside of the obvious human factor of employees suffering and being unable to carry out their duties, companies must also take into account the financial burden that long-term injury and illness can bring about.

The industries reporting the highest levels of workplace injury are:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Wholesale/retail trade and repair of motor vehicles
  • Accommodation/food service activities

This makes sense, as workers in these sectors are often exposed to increased levels of both social and environmental risk factors like falls from height in construction, warehouse accidents in jobs such as manufacturing, and working alone with members of the public in the retail or real estate industries.

According to a previous report on non-fatal injuries, the top causes of accidents at work are slips, trips and falls on the same level (29%), handling, lifting or carrying (20%), being struck by a moving object (10%), acts of violence (8%) and falls from height (8%).

With this taken into account, the low levels of workplace fatalities in the UK when compared to other countries in Europe and beyond could potentially be attributed to the increasingly significant regulations that British businesses must navigate when dealing with the health and safety of their staff.

In the UK employers are required by law to do everything in their power to assess, mitigate and protect against risks in the workplace. Despite a slight drop in convictions, the HSE issued 7,075 notices in 2019/20, and £35.8 million was paid in fines from prosecutions. 

accidents at work warning sign

Mental health in the workplace

Working days lost due to stress, depression and anxiety may have become the biggest issue for businesses across the UK. In 2019/20, 55% of days could be attributed to these mental health issues, while musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 27% in contrast. 

Combined with other types of illness that caused employees to miss work during the same period, a total of 32.5 million working days were missed due to work-related ill-health. 

The industries most likely to be affected by mental health disorders such as stress, depression and anxiety include:

  • Electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning suppliers (3,020)
  • Public admin/defence (2,960)
  • Human health/social work (2,350)
  • Education (2,170)

The 828,000 (347,000 newly recorded) self-reported cases in this area amount to 17.9 million working days lost across 2019/20. It is estimated that these cases are caused by a combination of workload, lack of support, violence, threats, bullying and changes at work.

Issues such as changes at work, increased workloads and less significant contact with colleagues have only been exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 crisis. It was revealed by the Office of National Statistics in June 2020 that the number of adults reporting symptoms of depression had almost doubled.

However, many of the problems that have been proven to lead to chronic stress and anxiety can be addressed by other health and safety measures.

If an employee knows that their health and wellbeing is a priority for the business, for example, then they are more likely to feel supported and potentially able to go to their manager with issues they have been experiencing. 

Preventing injury and long-term illness in the workplace

The sobering figures released by the HSE only serve to highlight further how important it is for businesses to prioritise the health and safety of their workers.

The report also proves how important it is to look after all aspects of employee wellbeing, from preventing accidents in the workplace to reducing exposure to potentially dangerous substances and ensuring that workers are not unnecessarily put under extreme stress.

Lone workers, in particular, can be very susceptible to these issues, experiencing heightened levels of isolation and - sometimes - the threat of violence while on duty.

Without the right tools at their disposal, these workers are also more at risk when accidents do happen. This is because they are not physically close to colleagues and supervisors who could raise the alarm if necessary.

The potential for injury or illness while alone is why it is so important to equip lone workers (and all other workers) with ways to protect themselves should something happen. This can include a variety of things, but perhaps most effective are devices like lone worker alarms.

These alarms allow the user to call for help should they need it, or even act as a deterrent if they are being confronted or threatened. Many also include a Man Down sensor that can raise the alarm if the wearer has become incapacitated.

How can we help?

The only way to go even further in efforts to mitigate risk and prevent injury and illness at work is to make use of the tools that are already available to businesses. 

Not only do things such as mobile workforce management software and lone worker devices help organisations to meet HSE requirements, but they also empower employees to be able to protect themselves.

To learn more about how lone worker strategies and tools can help your business, get in touch with one of our experts here or call us on 020 3820 3480.

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