According to the latest statistics from Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 1.2 million people who worked during 2014/15 suffered from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their work.
This, along with workplace injuries, is costing the UK economy an estimated £14.3 billion a year. Worryingly, a recent report also found that nearly half of UK workplaces have never had a health and safety inspection – including more than 80% of construction workplaces.
Common health conditions that are caused or made worse by work include:
- Work-related stress. 9.9 million days were lost due to work-related stress, with higher rates reported in the health and social care, and educational occupations.
- Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (affecting muscles, joints and tendons in all parts of the body). Manual handling was listed as the main work activity causing this disorder, with 9.5 million days lost mainly in building trades, healthcare (nurses), personal care and skilled agriculture occupations.
- Work-related respiratory disease. About 30,000 people who worked in the last year report they currently have breathing/lung problems caused or made worse by work. General working environment and dusts from stone, cement and bricks are listed as the main cause of self-reported respiratory disease.
- Work-related skin disease. The severity of skin disease varies widely from minor irritation to severe cases of dermatitis, as well as skin cancers. Working with wet hands and using soaps or cleansing agents are the most common cause of skin problems like dermatitis.
Long-latency conditions, which are caused by previous work activity and where symptoms can appear many years after exposure, include:
- Work-related cancer. 8,000 deaths and 13,500 new cases were estimated for 2014/15 and over 5,500 of these cases were from the construction industry. Other causes of occupational cancer are shift work, solar radiation, mineral oils and silica.
- Asbestos-related disease. Current deaths are a result of past exposures, particularly in building related jobs. There are approximately 5,000 deaths in total per year due to Asbestos.
- Work-related noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). The highest rates of work-related hearing loss occur in the energy and extraction, construction, and manufacturing industries. Around 15,000 workers have a NIHL annually, although the total number of cases has dropped considerably in recent years since a peak of around 500,000 cases estimated in 1997/98.
- Hand-arm vibration disorder (HAVS). Extractive, construction and manufacturing industries are most at risk of this disorder, which is caused by the use of hand-held power tools. Over the past 12 years, there has been an average of just over 1,300 claims a year on the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit for HAV disorders.
Highest causes of work-related ill health
Mental Health is now the highest cause of work absence in the UK, with most days lost due to stress, depression and/or anxiety (collated as a single issue for this particular report), with musculoskeletal disorders coming a close second. These two groupings account for 9.9 and 9.5 million days off work a year respectively.
Although these numbers are high, British workers have in fact got healthier, or hardier, over the past decade with the number of absences due to ill health dropping. However, the daily grind can wear us all down from time to time, and it seems more so for some parts of Britain than others.
According to HSE, the five UK regions with the highest amount of work-related ill health incidences in 2015 were:
- East Midlands – 4620
- Wales – 4400
- Yorkshire and Humber – 4350
- South West – 4320
- South East – 4190
These statistics show why the right health and safety provisions should always be in place. Despite the great strides and improvements made over the last 40 years since Britain’s health and safety regime was established, there is still more that can be done and not all at a big cost to your business.
When was the last time you reviewed your health and safety policy? If not within the last 3 years it may be time to review it. You can discover more about the UK’s most dangerous areas to work with this interactive graphic.