Mental health at work worsens but workplace deaths fall in Great Britain

Out-Law News | 10 Nov 2020 | 1:32 pm | 2 min. read

Work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for more than half of British work-related ill health in 2019/20, and the rate of mental health issues at work is rising sharply, according to new data.

The UK Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) annual statistical report showed that an estimated 828,000 workers in Great Britain were affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/20, representing 2,440 people per 100,000 workers and an estimated 17.9 million working days lost. This represented 51 per cent of all work-related ill health and 55% of all days lost due to work-related ill health last year.

The statistics showed there were 111 fatal injuries at work in 2019/20. A total of 1.6m people suffered from a work-related illness, and a total of 38.8m working days were lost to illness or injury with an estimated economic cost of £16.2 billion.

The number of deaths fell from 149 in 2018/19, with falls from height remaining the main cause of death. The HSE said the Covid-19 pandemic could have had an impact in reducing numbers, and the fall “may not reflect any major shift in the inherent dangerousness of workplaces”.

Health and safety expert Kevin Bridges of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “Whilst there is much to be applauded in the statistics published today, the figures for workplace ill health, and particularly mental health remain a concern.”

HSE put the improvement of workplace ill health at the heart of its five-year ‘Helping Great Britain Work Well’ strategy in 2016, after identifying continuing high levels of it as an area of concern. This was also emphasised by its 2018 ‘Go Home Healthy’ campaign, in relevant sector and health priority plans and, most recently, its business plan for 2019/20.

Health and safety expert Phil Newton of Pinsent Masons said the figures showed that much remained to be done to achieve the HSE’s stated aim of improving workplace ill health, in particular work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

“It is not always easy to attribute ill health to workplace conditions, which may contribute to the difficulties with enforcement in this area. The HSE has committed to improve this, however, and these figures are likely to increase that resolve. Increased enforcement action in this area should be expected,” Newton said.

Bridges said employers needed to consider the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their employees’ mental health and prioritise wellbeing during the second lockdown in England.

“As nations face a second wave of the virus and the consequent restrictions on movement imposed by governments in response, employers must be mindful of their obligations in relation to both safety and health. Technological advances have meant that many workers can continue from home. Whilst that may mean that physical injuries are less likely, the potential for mental injury must not be forgotten. The HSE’s figures reveal that, Covid-19 apart, workplace mental health remains a concern. The impact of Covid is likely to exacerbate that if steps are not taken to address the risk now,” Bridges said.