Recent figures show that ill health and work-related injuries cost the British economy over £16 billion over 2019-2020. More than half of the working days that were lost were because of mental ill-health. 

New research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shows that, due to ill health and work-related injury, Great Britain has lost 38.8 million working days which has cost the economy £16.2 billion.

When analysing work-related ill health over 2019-20, over 1.6 million workers were affected by this which led to 32.5 million working days to be lost.

In addition, just under a million (828,000) workers reported that they were dealing with work-related stress, anxiety or depression. 17.9 million working days were lost as a result of this – over half of the working days lost in total. On top of this, worsening mental health was a significant issue for employees as there were over a quarter of a million (347,000) new claims linked to mental ill-health in 2019-20.

Interestingly, the research shows that approximately 700,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury in the workplace whilst only 65,427 employers reported that a worker had suffered a non-fatal injury.

The research also noted that the emergence of COVID-19 as a national health issue during the final quarter of 2019/20 did not appear to be the main driver of changes seen within this data. However, it did note that it could be a contributory factor.

Sarah Newton, HSE Chair said:

The Covid pandemic has focussed attention on the health and safety issues people face in the workplace. HSE remains committed to taking action where workers are not protected, to ensure the guidance and assistance we provide for employers in managing risks is the best available, based on the latest evidence and science.

Although Great Britain continues to be up there with the safest places in the world to work, these figures highlight the scale of the challenge HSE currently faces in making Britain an even healthier and safer place to work, this includes our role in the response to the pandemic to ensure workplaces are Covid Secure.

We must continue to drive home the importance of managing risk and promoting behaviours to ensure employers work right so that workers are able to go home healthy and safe at the end of each day.

Laura Trendall Morrison, a specialist in Leadership and Management at the GameChanger Consultancy, a consultancy firm, said:

For employers with staff now working from home, it is essential that beyond the regular workplace policies, that homeworking policies are implemented and self-assessment checks are put in place for safe working, equipment, posture and Display Screen Equipment.  It’s imperative for new homeworkers that regular breaks are encouraged, as there can be a tendency towards presenteeism in the early stages of homeworking, possibly compounded by the level of trust in cultures where working from home is new to a department or team.

Employees also need awareness on stress management and resilience, and access to Employee Assistance Schemes without stigmatisation.  Regular check-ins, whether online, with a line manager or colleague or self-reported and system based, should be encouraged, as well as assessing HR data for indications of patterns that might indicate employee distress, to enable early intervention and mitigate risk to the business.

Managers and leaders need to look at where jobs can be modified, to increase the locus of control for individuals in how they go about their work in the current circumstances.  Policies need reviewing to look at how it can be made simpler to make accommodations for flexibility in hours and leave, to enable caring responsibilities and emergencies to be dealt with without detriment to the employee, as such events are likely to increase in times of a public health emergency.

Positive investment of not just money, but  also time and attention, in Health, Safety and Wellbeing training and strategy, and prioritising this in the culture can build employee engagement, trust, and reduce the risks to business.  Whilst the HSE report focuses on direct costs that can be counted, there are the hidden costs of work related accidents and illness on staff morale, brand reputation and value added economically by each employee not able to work at full capacity, as well as the knock-on impacts to families and communities when a loved on is impacted by an accident or illness.