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October 27, 2015

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Ill health accounts for 99% of work-related deaths, latest HSE statistics report

Occupational health is top of the agenda as ill health accounts for about 99% of work-related deaths each year, according to the latest health and safety statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The report from the regulatory body shows that around 13,000 deaths each year are from work-related lung disease and cancer and are estimated to be attributed to past exposures.

Workplace ill-health

Fatal diseases

The biggest causes of work-related diseases are cancer, including mesothelioma and lung cancer due to asbestos exposure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with the main causal agents being dust, gases, vapours and fumes.

Following asbestos-induced cancer and COPD, the next four biggest diseases are:

  • Lung cancer – silica
  • Lung cancer – diesel engine exhaust
  • Breast cancer – shiftwork
  • Lung cancer – mineral oils.


In 2013, there were 2,538 deaths due to Mesothelioma caused by past exposure to asbestos.

The latest projections from HSE estimate that there will be around 2,500 deaths per year until 2020, before annual numbers begin to decline, with a prediction that they will reach less than 2,000 per year in 2030.

Self-reported illness

The latest statistics show that an estimated 2 million people were suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their current or past work in 2014/15.

Among the 1.2 million people who had worked in the last 12 months, 0.5 million of these were new cases with musculoskeletal disorders and stress, depression or anxiety topping the list of work-related illness.

The number of new cases of ill health has generally fallen since 2001/02 and the number of new cases of stress, depression or anxiety has remained broadly flat for more than a decade with an estimate of 234,000 in the 2014/15.

Workplace injuries


The number of workers fatally injured in 2014/15 has risen slightly from 2013/14, with 142* fatalities compared with 136 in the previous year.

Over the last 20 years there has been a downward trend in the rate of fatal injuries – with fatalities reaching up to 300 in the year 00/01. However, since 2008/09 this trend has been less clear with fatality rates fluctuating between 136 and 179 over the last eight years of data gathered.

The highest rates of fatal injuries occurred in construction and agriculture with 35 and 33 deaths respectively.

Scotland, the north west of England and the south west of England had the highest rates of fatal injuries to workers with 20, 20 and 19 respectively, while the north east of England had the lowest fatality rate of one.

Non-fatal injuries

The statistics from HSE reported that the total number of non-fatal injuries to employees has dropped to 76,054 in the year 2014/15, however HSE states that an analysis of the trend in this rate is complicated by the changes in the reporting regulations over the last few years.

Of those non-fatal injuries reported in the last year the most common kinds of accident were caused by:

  • Slips and trips (28%)
  • Handling, lifting or carrying (23%)
  • Being struck by moving objects (10%)

The East Midlands had the highest rate of non-fatal injuries per 100,000 workers – at 2,700 – closely followed by Wales (2,640). The lowest rate of non-fatal injuries per 100,00 workers occurred in London (1,470).

Psychosocial and physical factors

In a national survey of workplaces employing five or more employees, the most commonly cited risk factor across all workplaces was ‘dealing with difficult customers, patients, pupils, etc’, which the HSE highlighted as a recognised psychosocial risk but also as a potential physical risk in terms of threats and violence towards workers.

Physical risks – including lifting/moving, chemical/biological substance, repetitive movements and slips, trips and falls – made up the majority of risks listed, with the psychosocial issues of time pressure, long and irregular hours, communication and job insecurity coming in at the bottom.

European comparisons

Great Britain consistently performs well when compared to France, Italy, Spain, Poland and Germany in terms of fatalities per 100,000 employed.

Non-fatal injuries in the UK were at a similar level to other large economies in 2013, while rates of work-related ill health resulting in sick leave were lower than most other EU countries.

Economic costs

Both injury and ill-health in the workplace have an economic cost, which includes both financial costs incurred and a valuation on human costs.

In 2013/14, injuries and ill health cost society an estimated £14.3 billion, with £9.4 billion from illness and £4.9 billion in injury.

This cost has generally fallen over the last ten years but has shown signs of levelling off since 2009/10.

The majority of these costs falls on the individual (57%), while employers and the government/taxpayers bear a similar proportion (19% and 24% respectively).

Read the full report on the latest health and safety statistics from HSE.

*This number is provisional.

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8 years ago

The latest HSE statistics make interesting reading and show that despite significant improvements over recent years, there is still lots of work to be done to improve workplace health and safety. The fact that ill health is responsible for 99% of workplace deaths shows that the industry needs to be paying as much attention to health as we do to safety.