The new statistics provide an extremely useful and comprehensive illustration of work-related health and safety in the UK. Simon Festing, CEO of BOHS stated: “While some of the trends are encouraging, many of the figures remain concerningly high, clearly indicating that in terms of ensuring best practice in worker health protection, many challenges remain. It’s vital that both employers and employees embrace effective occupational hygiene practice, in order to reduce the burden and human cost of work-related ill health.”
Headline statistics and trends
Key statistics from the HSE’s report include:
- 3 million working people are suffering from a work-related illness (new or long-standing)
- 7 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health (2016/17)
- 13,000 deaths each year are estimated to be linked to past exposures at work, primarily chemicals or dust: occupational lung diseases account for around 12,000 of these deaths
- 2,542 mesothelioma deaths are due to past exposure to asbestos2. The projection is that there will be around 2,500 mesothelioma deaths per year to the end of the decade, before a decline in numbers is seen
- £14.9 billion is the estimated cost of injuries and ill health, due to current working conditions3 (this figure excludes long latency illness such as cancer)
Although the above figures may seem alarmingly high, a few of the overall trends depict a slightly more encouraging picture:
- Since 2001, the overall rate of work-related ill health demonstrated a slight downward trend, with a broadly flat scale since 2014
- The number of working days lost per worker, due to work related ill health, demonstrated a downward trend until approximately 2010/11, with a broadly flat rate thereafter
- The UK has lower rates of work-related ill heath than most other EU countries
However, despite some of the key figures remaining flat – as opposed to showing an actual increase – there is clearly still cause for concern that the overall human costs of work-related ill health remain too high, further underlining an evident need for the work BOHS undertakes to raise awareness of the benefits of occupational hygiene.
Working together to raise awareness
Critical to the success of reducing workplace ill health, is that everyone embraces their responsibilities – employers have a duty to ensure that everyone can ‘Go Home Healthy’ from work, and employees need to play their part too: this is one of the HSE’s key campaigns currently, encouraging everyone to ‘do the right thing’ and protect workers’ health.
Additionally, 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, launched in 2016.
One of the key points stated in the executive summary of the HSE’s strategy document, is that “Everyone in the health and safety system should play their part”: a simple enough declaration that may sound obvious – but clearly one that requires constant reiteration, so that employers and employees are reminded about occupational hygiene and the need to place, and keep, ‘health’ firmly at the top of everyone’s agenda.
The first two of the HSE’s six strategic themes distinctly underline what is needed to raise awareness and encourage ownership of worker health protection:
- Acting together: promoting broader ownership of health and safety in Great Britain
- Tackling ill health: highlighting and tackling the costs of work-related ill health
Of course, these themes also reflect BOHS’ ethos: BOHS’ vision is ‘A healthy working environment for everyone’, and the Society works hard to raise awareness of worker health protection – via a range of activities and campaigns. One of its strategic themes and objectives (within its 2016 – 2020 strategy) is to ‘Raise awareness of occupational hygiene’: BOHS has made huge strides in this area, through its Breathe Freely in Construction campaign. Via free materials and educational resources on the Breathe Freely website, and three years of activities including many roadshow events, significant progress has been made to raise awareness of worker health protection. BOHS’ campaign has attracted unprecedented levels of support in its first two and a half years, from employers, trade unions and other influential people and organisations. BOHS has now signed up over 100 supporters from across the construction industry, and over 60 Breathe Freely talks have been delivered at roadshows, events and meetings across the UK, all designed to offer practical advice on managing health. The second phase of the campaign, Breathe Freely in Manufacturing launched earlier this year, and aims to replicate in a new sector, the success achieved by BOHS in the construction industry.
Simon commented further on the illustration presented by these latest statistics: “The cost of work-related ill health remains frustratingly high – especially frustrating given that it’s comparatively easy in many situations to make simple changes, in order to protect workers’ health.” He concluded: “We can all influence significant change in attitudes to worker health protection by focusing on working together, taking responsibility and promoting the excellent messages of the HSE, along with our own – to achieve a healthy working environment for everyone.”
- This figure relates to 2015
- This figure is for the 2015/16 period