4th March, 2019

The Top 5 Health Risks At Work (From HSE Statistics)

There are 1.4 million workers suffering from work-related ill health, with over half a million new cases each year. Work-related ill health is responsible for a staggering 26.8 million working days lost. Not to mention the pain and suffering of those affected. Here are the top 5 causes.

The Top 5 Health Risks At Work (From HSE Statistics) header image

Safety hazards often hit the headlines. Fatal accidents and major incidents are shocking and attract attention. But what about the health, in health and safety? The figures relating to work-related ill health can be even more shocking.

There are 1.4 million workers suffering from work-related ill health, with over half a million new cases each year. Work-related ill health is responsible for a staggering 26.8 million working days lost each year. Not to mention the pain and suffering of those affected.

The majority of work-related deaths aren't from safety failings but from health problems. They might not kill you right away, with some diseases taking years and even decades to develop. But these deaths are work-related none-the-less. In fact, the HSE estimates that 13,000 deaths each year are linked to past exposure at work.

13,000 Deaths each year estimated to be linked to past exposure at work, primarily to chemicals or dust.

Compare this to 144 fatal injuries to workers in 2017/18, and you can see why health risks should also be a key focus for every business.

1. Asbestos

Asbestos may have been banned in the UK, but heavy use of this naturally occurring material in the past means it can be found in hundreds of thousands of buildings.

Asbestos is number 1 on our list because it is responsible for the most deaths each year. The HSE estimate that there are around 5000 deaths each year in the UK due to past asbestos exposure. Half from mesothelioma, which is an asbestos-related cancer of the lining of the lungs. And a further 2,500 from asbestos-related lung cancer, in the cells of the lungs.

Many people think that asbestos is a health risk only affecting construction workers. However, anyone can be at risk. Teachers have been known to be exposed by using drawing pins in walls. Families have been exposed by workers carrying fibres home on their clothing.

asbestos related deaths chart
Asbestos is the biggest killer on our list

In the last 10 years, according to HSE statistics, there have been over 20,000 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed. Around 18,000 men, and 2,000 women. Women are not at less of a risk. The big skew is because construction is a male-dominated industry, and this is the most at risk sector.

Want to know more? Download the asbestos awareness toolbox talk for more information.

2. Mental Health

We knew mental health would be in our top 5 but expected it to be lower down the list. However, the HSE statistics show that this is a major contributor to work-related ill health.

A massive 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related mental health issues (stress, depression or anxiety) in 2017/18.

595,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2017/18.

Check out these 24 tips for reducing stress at work.

3. Manual Handling

There were just under half a million workers suffering from work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2017/18. The biggest contributor? Manual handling.

It might not seem like lifting and carrying can be a major health risk, but as HSE statistics show, it is.

6.6 million working days lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2017/18.

Carrying things that are too heavy, or bulky, can lead to stress and strain on the body. Your weakest point is usually your back, but shoulders, arms, hands and legs can all be affected. And, it's not always what you carry, but also how you carry (or lift). Sometimes, just making sure you have the right posture can prevent injury.

Manual handling problems at work? Remember to think LITE!

4. Silica Dust

Another big health risk that primarily effects construction workers, silica dust. It's made it into the top 5 because, like asbestos, silica dust exposure can be fatal.

The HSE estimate that around 17% of occupational cancer cases can be attributed to past exposure to silica dust. That's around 850 new diagnoses, and 629 deaths each year.

It is estimated that past exposures in the construction sector annually cause over 5,000 occupational cancer cases and approximately 3,700 deaths.

Silica dust can be found in a wide variety of construction materials. Concrete, limestone, granite, slate, brick. All of these materials contain silica. On construction sites, these are materials that regularly need to be cut to size, drilled and worked on.

Silica dust might not be as talked about on site as asbestos, but the impact can be just as devastating to those affected.

Make sure you are aware of the risks. Download the silica dust toolbox talk and start a conversation on site.

5. Hazardous Substances

We have already covered two hazardous substances in our top 5, asbestos and silica dust. These are major workplace killers but don't think these are the only ones.

Chemicals, lead, and other hazardous substances are health risks too. Even wood dust can cause certain types of cancer. HSE statistics for 2017/18 show that there were 12,000 work-related lung disease deaths. 22% of these were not asbestos-related.

20,000 new cases of breathing or lung problems caused or made worse by work each year on average over the last three years.

Hazardous substances don't just cause respiratory problems. They can also cause skin issues, like dermatitis. Some hazardous substances can be toxic to internal organs or cause other conditions, like birth defects.

It's important to know what hazardous substances you work with. Some substances will have workplace exposure limits (WELs), and others will need to have their risks minimised as far as is reasonably practicable. Remember, the COSHH regulations apply to all hazardous substances.

Keep a list of all the hazardous substances in your workplace, with the free COSHH register template.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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