Workplace injury in decline but mental health on the rise according to H&S data

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In the UK, we have a good track record of workplace health and safety, when compared against neighbouring countries. In fact, the UK is regularly recognised as having one of the best records[1].  We can credit this, in part, to the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974.

As it has been 50 years since the law was introduced, Horizon Platforms wanted to look at its impact on health and safety across the UK, alongside the impact of subsequent laws passed since. Health and safety experts at Horizon Platforms have analysed Health & Safety Executive data, alongside other sources, to find out how accidents and injuries at work have changed.

The injuries and illnesses health and safety laws reduced

1974 saw 651 fatal injuries in workplaces, on record, compared against 135 in the most recent year’s data from 2022/2023[2]. This is a 79% drop in workplace fatalities caused by injury at work. The rate of non-fatal work injuries has seen a steep decline also over the years. Data shows the rate of non-fatal injuries in 2022/2023 was around 1,750 instances per 100,000 workers, down from a rate of 4,000 instances per 100,000 workers in the year 2000. Falls from height is the leading cause of fatal injury from work, at 27% of all injuries from 2018 - 2023, slips and trips were the biggest cause of non-fatal injury at 32%[3].

Interestingly, workplace sickness has risen in years since the pandemic[4]. Whilst injury at work related illness has declined, reports are showing much higher levels of staff sickness due to mental health conditions like stress, anxiety or depression. HSE data[5] showed mental health illnesses accounted for 49% of new and long-standing cases of work-related ill health by type. This is a huge rise as the 1990s saw less than 1,000 self-reported cases of stress, anxiety or depression accounting for workplace sickness. It seems legislation has had a positive impact on the risk and reported instances of physical injuries at work, but the new focus for workplaces should be across the mental impact jobs can have. Of course, a counter argument is there is less of a stigma around notifying mental health issues and therefore reported cases are seeing a rise.

The aftermath of lax health and safety for past generations

Past mistakes and slow speed at implementing health and safety regulations has, sadly, cost worker’s health over the decades. Positively, some health conditions have significantly declined in recent years, as strict safety laws have worked to reduce risks for employees.

Musculoskeletal disorders and Silicosis are just two conditions that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 has helped reduce. Musculoskeletal disorders still account for 25%[6] of all injuries from 2022/2023 data, but figures have dropped a lot from the peak period of the 1990s, which saw excessive reported instances of the medical condition. In 1994 Musculoskeletal disorders had a rate of 3,600 per 100,000 workers, this was 1,400 per 100,000 workers in 2022/2023.

Silicosis is a condition caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust over a period of years and is common in specific industries such as building, masonry or mining. Regulation and awareness over time has seen employers and employees take care to prevent as many new cases as in the past. Silicosis deaths and reported cases have also seen a large decline in charts reported by HSE[7].

There are still health conditions that are being reported due to the lasting impact of previous more lax health and safety regulation in certain industries. Asbestos is one such example, which stills reports a huge 5,000 related deaths per year[8]. Laws began to be proposed as early as 1932[9] for asbestos protection but full legislation and awareness of the damage it could do was not fully recognised until the late 1990s. Impacts from asbestos exposure can manifest for years before illnesses relating to it can develop, leading to records of cases and deaths still tracking highly in 2024. There were around 2,400 cases of mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths and cases assessed for IIDB in Great Britain in the 2022/2023 period.

Ben Hughes, Training and Compliance Manager, from Horizon Platforms, commented on the findings: “It is encouraging to see how legislation and guidelines have positively impacted the decline in workplace fatalities and injuries. The findings show that as workplaces change and evolve over time, so do the different health and safety challenges they face. For the modern workforce, they are fortunate to have strict safety laws in place to reduce injury but these rules must be followed to ensure safe working. The biggest challenge for health and safety at work in 2024 is for businesses to provide proper mental health support for workers in all industries. Having a HR presence, trained managers and mental health first aiders are all good steps for businesses to take to ensure they are properly equipped to support their staff should workplace-related mental health problems arise. It is also recommended to create an environment of openness and trust, to encourage employees to come forward with health struggles that aren’t always visible."


[1] https://www.ecoonline.com/blog/clarity-uk-health-safety-vs-other-countries
[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/292272/fatal-injuries-at-work-great-britain-by-employment-y-on-y/
[3] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/assets/docs/kinds-of-accident.pdf
[4] https://www.statista.com/statistics/509832/working-days-lost-due-to-workplace-injury-great-britain/
[5] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/
[6] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/assets/docs/historical-picture.pdf
[7] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/assets/docs/historical-picture.pdf
[8] https://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/dangerous.htm
[9] https://www.asbestoslawpartnership.co.uk/asbestos/asbestos-timeline


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