Regulatory and compliance

Health and Safety Executive spotlights mental health risks in the GB workforce

Published on 29th Nov 2022

The rate of work-related stress, depression and anxiety is rising, according to annual statistics

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Stress, depression and anxiety account for 51% of recorded work-related illnesses in Great Britain, according to the latest statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for 2021-22.

The HSE reports that the rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety, which had been increasing in the years before the pandemic, is higher than pre-coronavirus levels.

The summary shows that work-related mental health issues have a significant impact on the productivity of businesses and workplaces and their management can have major financial implications.

Over the past year, 17 million working days have been lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to the report. Work-related stress, depression or anxiety makes up 55% of all working days lost to work-related ill health.

The figures suggest that mental ill health (including stress) will have significant financial and operational implications to businesses with workforces over the coming years.

Occupational lung diseases

The HSE annual statistics for Great Britain also show that the number of mesothelioma deaths rose slightly in 2020. More broadly, the number of new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work, averaged across the preceding three years, has increased by 2,000 since 2021. However, with the progress of time from the date that asbestos was prohibited in 1999, the rate of instances are likely to fall and the HSE expects that mesothelioma deaths will reduce over the period 2020 to 2030.

Workplace injury

The number of workplace deaths have continued in a downward trend, falling from 142 in 2020-21 to 123 cases in 2021-22. Although more attention is being placed on mental health as a prevalent and headline issue for workplace health and safety, the statistics indicate that it should remain a key priority of businesses to prevent physical injuries and ensure adequate risk mitigation measures are in place.

Enforcement and prosecution

The figures for 2021-22 in HSE’s annual report and accounts, published earlier in the year, confirmed an increase in prosecutions from the previous year but with levels lower than in 2019-20. This increase may be explained in part by the Covid-19 pandemic, while, in general, the levels of prosecution continue to follow a downward trend. In 2021-22, there were five HSE prosecutions that resulted in fines of over £1 million, which suggests that courts are continuing to impose significant fines when they consider that these are required by the sentencing guidelines for health and safety.

Osborne Clarke comment

Businesses should review these latest statistics carefully to consider how they correlate with existing corporate risk registers and priorities and consider whether they prompt any areas for action.

These trends are a timely reminder to businesses about the duty as an employer to ensure that employees are not exposed to risks at work to their mental health and wellbeing. This is now an area that is a strategic priority for the HSE and we anticipate that it will start taking enforcement action over the next 12 months. The reduction in work-related ill health, with a specific focus on mental ill health and stress, is the first objective included in the HSE's Protecting People and Places strategy for 2022 to 2032. The HSE's decision to put mental health at the forefront of its latest strategy was driven in part by the upward trends identified in recent statistics and comes alongside the launch of HSE's Working Minds Campaign in 2022. This campaign, alongside the HSE's online guidance, is aimed at providing businesses with the tools they need to comply with their obligations in this space.

The latest statistics from the HSE reinforce the need for businesses to familiarise themselves with their legal duties relating to mental health. Businesses need to ensure that health and safety policies and systems address mental as well as physical health and safety, the risk is properly assessed and the business has a plan or strategy for managing this risk and that this takes into account the HSE's up-to-date guidance, including on management standards.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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