On 30 October 2019, The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its health and safety at work statistics for 2018/19. We previewed the release of these statistics when we reported on HSE’s industrial fatalities statistics for 2018/19, in edition 280 of BC Disease News (here).
Some of the key figures reported in the latest health and safety at work report, include:
- There were 1.4 million cases of work-related ill health (new or long standing), in 2018/19.
- There were 0.6 million cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing), in 2018/19.
- There were 0.5 million cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorder (new or long-standing), in 2018/19.
- There are 12,000 lung disease deaths each year, estimated to be linked to past exposures at work.
- There were 2,526 mesothelioma deaths, in 2017, with a similar number of asbestos-related lung cancer cases.
- The cost of new cases of work-related ill health in 2016/17, excluding long latency diseases, such as cancer, was £15 billion.
Work-Related Ill Health
In 2018/19, 1.4 million workers were suffering from work-related ill health. Of these, 497,000 workers were suffering from a new case of work-related ill health (8% less than last year). Overall, 23.5 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health (12% down on last year).
The most common type of work-related ill health was stress, depression or anxiety, which accounted for 44% of the total number of new and long-standing cases of work-related ill health (same as last year). Musculoskeletal disorders were the second most common type of work-related ill health, comprising of 37% of the total number of cases (2% more than last year). A similar trend was seen among working days lost in 2018/19, with stress, anxiety and depression being the cause of 54% days of absence (3% less than last year) and musculoskeletal disorders being the cause of 29% (4% up on last year).
The rate of self-reported work-related ill health has been broadly flat in recent years. The same pattern has emerged for the number of working days lost (per worker).
The industries with work-related ill-health rates that were statistically significantly higher than the rate for all industries were:
- Public administration and defence;
- Human health and social work; and
Work-Related Stress, Depression and Anxiety
There were 602,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2018/19 (1% more than last year), of which 246,000 were new cases (3% higher) and 356,000 were longstanding cases (no change). In total, 12.8 million working days were lost over the past year (17% fewer than the previous year).
Data from 2018/19 was combined with data from 2016/17 and 2017/18. This revealed that the industries with the highest rates of stress, depression or anxiety (from highest to lowest) were:
- Public admin / defence.
- Human health and social work.
- All (other) industries.
The rate of stress, anxiety or depression cases (per 100,000 workers) was broadly flat until 2016/17, at which point the number of cases started to increase. 2018/19 statistics indicate that cases are still on the rise.
Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders
During 2018/19, there were 498,000 workers suffering from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (6% more than in the previous reporting year). Within this period, 138,000 cases were new (13% fewer), meaning that 360,000 cases were longstanding (15% more than in 2017/18).
The areas of the body most commonly affected were the upper limbs and neck, amounting to 41% of cases (1% less than last year). By comparison, the back was affected in 40% of cases (same as last year) and the lower limbs were affected in 19% of cases (1% greater than last year).
Averaging of data collected between 2016/17 and 2018/2019 demonstrated that the industries with the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders (from highest to lowest) were:
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing.
- Human health and social work.
- All (remaining) industries.
The number of musculoskeletal disorder cases (per 100,000 workers) has generally decreased over the past 2-decades and the figures for 2018/19 continue this trend. Likewise, the number of working days lost (per worker) follows a long-term downward trend.
Based on Labour Force Survey data, it is predicted that manual handling, awkward or tiring positions and keyboard work or repetitive action will be the main causes of work-related musculoskeletal diseases in future years.
Occupational Lung Disease
It is estimated that 12,000 lung disease deaths each year are linked to past exposures at work. This is a high figure, especially given that there are only 13,000 total deaths estimated to be linked to past exposures at work (predominantly due to dust or chemical exposures).
Over the past 3-years, Labour Force Survey information has shown that there are, on average, 18,000 new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work (10% less than the 3-year average calculated in 2017/18).
Lung diseases that contribute to the estimated current annual deaths are:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (33%) – same as last year;
- Non-asbestos related lung cancer (23%) – 1% higher than last year;
- Mesothelioma (20%) – same as last year;
- Asbestos-related lung cancer (20%) same as last year; and
- Other disease (3%) – 2% lower than last year.
There were 132 new cases of occupational asthma seen by chest physicians in 2018. While there is no notable change in the estimated rate of new cases over the past decade, there were 38% fewer cases recorded than in 2017.
In 2017, there were 2,526 mesothelioma deaths recorded (see HSE’s mesothelioma statistics for Great Britain, 2019). No significant decline in annual mesothelioma mortality (below the benchmark of 2,500) is expected until the end of the decade, according to the latest projections.