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March 29, 2022

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Cultures and behaviours

Health and safety has never been so visible – could we lose focus in 2022?

2020/21 has firmly rooted health and safety in our day-to-day lives and our cultural consciousness. However, the latest statistics from the HSE prove we still have a long way to go. Simon Walter, Co-Director at Rhino Safety, shares his thoughts on what the focus should be in 2022.

face maskThere are no two ways about it – COVID-19 has changed the workplace. Before the pandemic, health and safety was, for many, considered a tick box exercise, and often took a back seat to other businesses-critical matters. Then 2020 hit, and, as the national lockdown came into effect, businesses were forced to find a new way of working.

Indeed, it’s undeniable that the pandemic has had an impact on health and safety in the workplace. This unprecedented push brough with it a greater understanding of the role health and safety plays in tackling a universal threat to health that a pandemic can bring.

While the virus should remain a concern, it’s not the only risk that employers are facing in the workplace. Some other concerns and issues persisted before, and which have been impacted, both directly and indirectly, by the pandemic.

The latest report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), published in December 2021, shows that, while there has been some improvement in key areas, others still have a way to go. Before we start, it’s important to understand that the ability to collect figures, as the report outlines, has had an impact on reporting. Additionally, results covering the 2020 period will also be impacted by the course of the pandemic and its effect on the workplace.

The latest statistics reveal some interesting points that highlight the state of health and safety in the UK, between 2020 and 2021:

  • Work-related ill-health cases increased from 1.6 million to 1.7 million
  • New cases of work-related ill health rose from 638,000 to 850,000, a 33% increase
  • The number of workers suffering from a new case of work-related stress, anxiety and depression rose by 30%, from 347,000 to 451,000
  • The major cause of new and long-standing cases of work-related ill-health is stress, depression and anxiety, which accounts for an astonishing 50% of cases
  • Musculoskeletal issues are next at 28%, while other types of illnesses account for 22%
  • Workers suffering from a new case of work-related musculoskeletal disorder rose by 6.5% from 152,000 to 162,000
  • Workers who sustained non-fatal injuries (self-reported) decreased by 36%. Non-fatal injuries reported by employers also fell by 22%
  • The major cause of non-fatal injuries across all industries is slips, trips and falls. In 2019/20 it accounted for 29% of incidents. In 2020/21 it rose to 33%
  • Fatal injuries at work rose from 111 in 2019/20 to 142 in 2020/21. The major cause of fatal injuries is falling from height, which is consistent with previous years
  • Over half of fatal injuries to workers in 2020/21 were in agriculture, forestry and fishing (34%) and construction sectors (39%)

Looking at these statistics, there’s a lot to reflect on. Among them are things we can do in 2022 to ensure that health and safety remain at the forefront of policy and strategy across a wide range of industries and sectors.

So – what are the key things we should focus on to move the dial on health and safety in 2022?

Keep health and safety in focus

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, health and safety was a key measure in protecting employees in essential roles.

Indeed, health and safety became incredibly visible due to the pandemic and entered our cultural consciousness in a way that’s unprecedented in modern times.

As statistics have shown, health and safety numbers are on the rise towards pre-pandemic levels, and even higher in some cases. It begs the question – health and safety has never been as visible as it has been in recent years – so why are numbers still rising? Hasn’t the focus on health and safety had a meaningful impact on other areas?

When COVID-19 hit, prevention became the central focus for health and safety strategies across the UK. While that focus may have initially had a positive impact on other areas of health and safety, the focus has remained on prevention.

Another factor to consider is fatigue. After two years of restrictions, people across the UK have grown tired of rigid rules that have governed their everyday lives. As restrictions have lifted both inside and outside the workplace, there’s a sense that everything is back to normal, and there is no longer a need to focus on health and safety practices.

In short, while it looks as though the UK has turned a corner when it comes to COVID-19, we must preserve the focus on health and safety and ensure that it remains a key and visible part of operations. The challenge will now be keeping up the momentum surrounding health and safety in 2022 and beyond.

Incorporate mental health and wellbeing into health and safety practice

Looking at HSE statistics, you might find it alarming that 30% of workers are suffering from new cases of work-related stress, anxiety and depression.

The pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to this rise, creating widespread uncertainty for millions of workers. However, the wider acceptance of mental health, brought on by cultural changes, has empowered many workers to recognise and report cases of work-related stress, anxiety and depression, where they may not have in the past.

Cultural changes have pushed industry sectors to incorporate mental health and wellbeing awareness into their ethos, providing workers with clear processes to report and address issues. While it is great to see many businesses implementing health programmes as part of company culture, it’s often not incorporated as part of a safety policy.

Taking a proactive and supportive approach to mental health and wellbeing is a must in 2022.

Things employers can do to ensure that mental health becomes a key part of safety policy and strategy, include:

  • Develop an organisation wide approach and integrate the promotion of mental health into all policies and practices concerned with managing people
  • Adopt a structured approach to assessing and managing risk around mental health and stress
  • Provide opportunities for flexible working, and promote a culture that supports this
  • Empower line managers to actively promote the mental wellbeing of employees through a supportive leadership style
  • Ensuring managers are able to motivate employees and provide training and support for development
  • Increasing understanding of how management style can help promote mental wellbeing
  • Ensuring that managers can identify and respond to employees’ emotional concerns and symptoms of poor mental health
  • Ensuring managers understand when it’s necessary to refer to occupational health or other sources for support

Reduce the threat of musculoskeletal disorders across multiple industries

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs. While MSDs often develop in physically demanding jobs such as construction and agriculture, they can also develop in a wide variety of workplaces, including retail and office-based roles. Indeed, its ability to develop across industries and sectors is undoubtedly one of the reasons it appears so prominently in HSE data year on year, and 2020/21 is no different.

As the new data shows, musculoskeletal issues are the 2nd leading cause of new and long-standing cases of work-related ill-health, accounting for 28% of cases. It also indicates that workers suffering from a new case of work-related musculoskeletal disorder rose by 6.5% from 152,000 to 162,000.

Measures employers can put in place to reduce the threat of musculoskeletal disorders:

  • Improve work techniques
  • Ensure employees have appropriate equipment
  • Boost employee’s awareness through regular assessment and training
  • Invest in proactive measures to reduce the risk of fatal injury
  • Engage employees
  • Evaluate near-hits and safety concerns
  • Conduct regular risk assessments
  • Capitalise on training and education
  • Observe employees at work
  • Use data points and indicators

The pandemic has had a significant impact on workplaces across the UK. If 2020/21 statistics show us anything, it’s how vital the role of proactive and reactive health and safety is in protecting millions of workers in the UK, and will continue to be in 2022.

Musculoskeletal disorders (managing risk and the HSE assessment tools)

In this webinar, which is now available to watch on-demand, Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, Hollie Stocks, Sales Manager at HSE, and Carl Whitman, Marketing Manager at TSO, discussed how companies can best manage the risks relating to Musculoskeletal disorders, using the HSE’s online assessment tool.

Click here to access this session.

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