Significant Health & Safety trends in Annual Report


The latest Labour Force Survey annual figures for deaths and injuries at work have been published by HSE. Here are some of the salient points, with as usual a particular focus on construction safety, as that is our speciality at McCormack Benson Health & Safety.

HSE is majoring on the issue of long-term deaths from respiratory damage – and the main killer is of course asbestos. Lung diseases and cancers account for some 13,000 deaths each year and many occur years after the person contracted the disease at their workplace.

If you look at the graph here, reproduced from HSE’s report, you can see the predominance of asbestos-related fatalities. It is estimated that over 8,000 cases are of this type. And when you look at all the other causes, there is not one that does not present a significant risk to workers in the building trades.

Rising Asbestos-related figures

The reported cases of Mesothelioma, the biggest single disease, have increased year-on-year, partly due (it is thought) to greater awareness and more people being diagnosed as a result. As the incidence of new asbestos contact declines, so it is expected that the number of cases will peak between 2015 and 2020, and decline thereafter. The number of new disability claimants has been lagging behind the number of deaths for some years, and this trend continues.
A huge number of people (2 million) are reported to report illness that has at least something to do with their work. In our reporting on construction health & safety we tend inevitably to focus on cases of actual bodily harm or death: there are of course many more unreported cases of ‘musculoskeletal disorders’: and at least as many issues of ‘stress, depression or anxiety’. It is much harder to get a handle on these issues and to deal with them: all that can be said in general terms is that the figures lend weight to the belief that best-practice heath and safety adds to the general well being of a workforce and is likely to make them happier and healthier, thus more productive and less prone to take time off.

IIDB Decline

Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) claims are dropping, when one strips out the asbestos cases referred to above. Areas where the numbers have dropped significantly in recent years include –

  • Vibration white finger
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Dermatitis
  • Deafness

Deaths fell from 150 in 2012/13 to 133 in 2013/14, and the 5-year moving average is 164, so there is evidence of a continuing positive trend. All health and safety professionals should take some satisfaction from this.

Unfortunately there is a break in the data (due to changes in the reporting regulations) when it comes toreportable injuries, so no direct comparisons can be made with the previous year, but again the trend is clearly still downward over recent years.

Court cases resulted in a 94% conviction rate, and there is no clear evidence of a significant change as a result of Fees for Intervention. There has been a 5% fall in HSE prosecutions, while Local Authority cases fell by 16%, albeit from a much lower base. This may provide some evidence of budgetary cutbacks. Enforcement Notice numbers were virtually unchanged, with an HSE increase balanced out by a Local Authority decline.

The Construction sector is often singled out for attention. It is therefore interesting to note that in ‘illness’ terms it is average (the 8th worst sector) compared to the total UK workforce. Only in ‘injury’ terms is it above average, and even here it is well below Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing, and level with Accommodation/Food Services.

Overall, the survey’s authors estimate that £14.2 billion is lost to society due to work-related ill health, of which 57% of the burden falls upon individuals. This is of course a huge drain on the country as a whole: and although it can never be eradicated, the scale of the issue explains why we in the safety business have an extremely important role to play.