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Stress Overtakes MSDs In Britian's Workplaces, Says HSE

Figures show the number of workers who said they experienced stress, depression or anxiety was up 7% on the previous period, from 488,000 (a rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers) to 526,000.

13 February 2018

Stress overtakes MSDs in Britain’s workplaces, says HSE

Figures show the number of workers who said they experienced stress, depression or anxiety was up 7% on the previous period, from 488,000 (a rate of 1,510 per 100,000 workers) to 526,000. In 2014-15, 440,000 workers reported a mental health problem caused or made worse by employment.

The condition has overtaken musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as the most commonly reported work-related illness.

The HSE’s annual statistics release shows that there were 609,000 non-fatal injuries in 2016-17, 175,000 of which resulted in people taking more than seven days off work.

Handling, lifting or carrying, and slips, trips and falls accounted for almost 40% of non-fatal injuries to workers. In contrast, these contributed to only 2% of fatal injuries over the period 2012-13 to 2016-17. Falls from height – the most common cause of fatal injury to workers over the past five years – accounted for just 7%.

The rate of non-fatal workplace injuries per 100,000 workers has halved since 2000-01, the HSE said, but has remained broadly flat in recent years.

Occupational lung diseases, including asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, accounted for around 12,000 of the 13,000 total deaths estimated to be linked to past exposures at work, the HSE said.

Breaking down the stress-related illness by sector, the HSE found it was more widespread in public service industries, such as education, health and social care, and public administration and defence.

Skilled trades, elementary occupations, and process plant and machine operatives had statistically significantly lower rates of work-related mental health problems at 460, 760 and 620 cases per 100,000 workers respectively.

The figures also show that men are less likely than women to report a mental health problem with workplace injuries and ill health cost Britain £14.9bn last year.

With 300,000 people in the UK with long-term mental health problems losing their job annually, a new independent review called Thriving at Work urges all employers to commit to core standards on mental health.

Key recommendations were:

• More education for managers and supervisors on how to support workers;
• Helping workers gain self-awareness and insight into their own needs and values, and keeping in touch with those who seem to engage less in recovery-enhancing behaviour;
• Using a personalised return approach and greater collaboration between stakeholders.
Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at IOSH, said: “Employers have a vital role in providing supportive workplaces. It’s time for them to step up to the mark on mental health”.

The HSE’s new Health and Work strategy

The strategy focuses on the two principle causes of ill health related absence: stress and musculoskeletal disorders, which together account for 80% of lost working time.

The third focus is occupational lung disease, which accounts for 90% of estimated deaths related to exposures at work, or 12,000 deaths a year.

According to the HSE, the strategy is aligned to the over-arching Helping Great Britain Work Well strategy, but forms a separate entity.

The launch will be followed by “conversations” with stakeholders through various channels, rather than a more formal consultation period, an HSE spokesperson said.

It is inviting the safety sector and employers to engage on the strategy through digital webinars, email bulletins and social media.

Speaking to Health and Safety at Work, Clive Johnson chair of the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HiCLG) and director of safety, health and environment at Land Securities, the developer of the Nova scheme welcomed the strategy. “It’s great for us in the HiCLG, it aligns with everything we’re doing and it will now drive it right across every industry. It will guide the way the HSE approaches enforcement, through its inspections and visits.”

The strategy says that the HSE will prioritise interventions, inspection activity and enforcement on those sectors and work activities where lung cancer, occupational asthma and legionella pose the highest risks.
Three sub-strategies, also published last week, outline a series of measures intended to raise awareness of risk factors, publicise benchmarks and build up expertise.

On stress, there are plans to launch pilot projects targeting the “priority” sectors of education and health.

The HSE also plans to publish a “refreshed” suite of guidance and tools on stress; to provide benchmarking data by sector and business size; and to research the effectiveness of its “Management Standards” approach.

On lung disease, there is a plan to draw together expertise in an “authoritative leadership” body, which will be established and commission an action plan by the end of 2017.

The strategy says that the HSE will prioritise interventions, inspection activity and enforcement on those sectors and work activities where lung cancer, occupational asthma and legionella pose the highest risks.

It will also continue research on asbestos and lung disease, gather evidence on respirable crystalline silica exposure at work and publish the results, and continue research on asthma risks, publishing the conclusions by March 2018.

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