Employees’ mental health should be a priority  - Kevin Bridges

The latest statistics from the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlight a concerning upwards trend in instances of work-related stress, depression, and anxiety.

Out of an estimated 1.8 million cases of work-related ill health in 2021/22, more than 900,000 were due to work related stress, depression and anxiety – making poor mental health the number one reason for work-related illness in the UK. Employers must take note and do more to address the situation, amid increasing potential for enforcement action.

The latest figures show an 11.2 per cent increase on the previous year, affecting 2,750 people per 100,000 workers in the UK. Estimates indicate that approximately 17 million working days have been lost due to work-related mental health issues – an average of 18.6 days lost per case.

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While the number of new cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety fell by 17.5 per cent on the previous year, from 451,000 to 372,000, rates had been increasing in the years prior to the pandemic, demonstrating the long-term systemic nature of the issue.

Kevin Bridges, Partner and Head of Health and Safety, Pinsent MasonsKevin Bridges, Partner and Head of Health and Safety, Pinsent Masons
Kevin Bridges, Partner and Head of Health and Safety, Pinsent Masons

The industries with higher-than-average rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety were public administration, defence, human health/social work and education – each had an incidence rate of more than 2,500 cases per 100,000 workers against a national average of 2,000.

The new data also shows that there were 123 fatal injuries at work in 2021/22, an increase on the preceding year of almost 11 per cent, while an additional 565,000 workers suffered a non-fatal injury at work in. Construction, agriculture, forestry and fishing, manufacturing, and transportation and storage continue to account for the bulk of fatalities.

A total of 1.8 million people suffered from a work-related illness in 2021/22, translating into a total of 36.8 million working days lost and an associated economic cost of £18.8 billion. Of the 1.8 million people suffering from a work-related illness, nearly a third believed that their ill health was caused or made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whilst the mental health of workers has been climbing the boardroom agenda in recent years, the HSE’s latest statistics demonstrate that more needs to be done.

Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees so far as is reasonably practicable. This duty extends to mental health as well as physical health and as in all safety and health issues there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health and wellbeing – risk assessments and mitigations must be tailored to the particular business and worker profile.

While we have not yet seen any prosecutions from the HSE in relation to mental health risks at work, its continued and increasing presence in the statistics indicates that there may be mental health related enforcement action on the horizon.

At a minimum, current policies/processes should be reviewed for data gathering and analysis. However, mental health is not just a human resources issue and businesses should ensure they are set up to deal with it on a multidisciplinary level involving human resources, occupational safety and health, legal and risk professionals.

Kevin Bridges, Partner and Head of Health and Safety, Pinsent Masons

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