BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, has welcomed the detailed coverage of work-related ill health issues in the latest health and safety statistics recently published by the HSE, but the Society also warned that concerted action will be needed – in order to achieve best practice in worker health protection, in critical sectors such as construction and manufacturing.

The HSE’s annual figures for health and safety at work in Britain for 2015/16 have now been made public in their final form, offering a comprehensive picture of the state of the nation’s work-related health and safety.

Highlighting and tackling the costs of work-related ill health is one of the six themes of the HSE’s five-year strategy Helping Great Britain work well and, in keeping with this vision, BOHS was encouraged to note the prominence of the commentary about work-related ill health in the new-style statistical bulletin for 2016.

Some of the noteworthy points revealed by the new figures include the following:

  • In 2015/16, a total of 1.3 million people who worked in the last 12 months reported suffering from a work-related illness (whether a new or long standing case). In 2014/15, this figure was 1.2 million
  • The most common types of illness in 2015/16 were: musculoskeletal disorders, affecting around half a million workers; and stress, anxiety or depression, experienced by another half a million workers
  • In 2015/16, a total of 25.9 million working days were lost due to work-related illness, compared with 23.3 million days in 2014/15
  • It is estimated that some 13,000 deaths each year are linked to past exposures at work, primarily to chemicals or dusts. However, the HSE’s new analysis explains that: just 10% of these deaths are caused by non-respiratory cancers; 33% are caused by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other respiratory disease; another 21% by other respiratory cancers; and 35% by asbestos-related cancer
  • Every year, around 14,000 new cases of work-related “breathing and lung problems” are reported
  • In terms of key sectors, the rate of self-reported illness in the construction sector has risen in recent years, with the latest increase being 3,410 per 100,000 workers in 2014/15 to 3,730 per 100,000 in 2015/16. In the manufacturing sector, the rate of illness also increased slightly, from 2,560 per 100,000 workers in 2014/15 to 2,630 in 2015/16
  • Across all industries, the rate of self-reported illness in 2015/16 was 4,050 per 100,000, having risen from 3,910 per 100,000 in 2014/15

Commenting on the figures, Steve Perkins, Chief Executive of BOHS, said, “The new statistics from the HSE clearly illustrate the vital importance of safeguarding respiratory health in Britain’s workplaces.  Respiratory illness is responsible for as many as 90% of the deaths caused each year by work-related diseases, and we know that the construction and manufacturing sectors are crucial in this regard.  There is no room for complacency, and this is why, in April 2015, we launched our Breathe Freely initiative, aimed at controlling exposures to prevent occupational lung disease in the construction industry: furthermore, in April 2017, we will launch the next phase of Breathe Freely for the manufacturing sector, to run in tandem with our existing construction-targeted initiative.”

Tracey Boyle, BOHS’s President, added, “The HSE’s plan to highlight and tackle the costs of work-related ill health, as set out in its Helping Great Britain work well strategy, has set the scene for concerted action on worker health protection over the next five years. With Breathe Freely for the construction sector continually gaining momentum and influence, and preparations underway to launch our second respiratory health initiative – for the manufacturing sector in April 2017 –  we are poised to make a real difference to the health of Britain’s workforce.”