The Impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the interpretation of Health and Safety Statistics 2020/21
A Technical Report has been published by the HSE to coincide with the publication of the annual set of national statistics on health and safety at work.
It is noted that the various statistics within the 2021 publication have to a greater or lesser extent been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The HSE points out that while every endeavour has been made during the pandemic to collect and update data on as complete and comparable basis as possible, important differences with earlier years’ data remain. The report considers the different impacts of the pandemic on health and safety statistics and the approaches taken to ensure that data quality is maintained.
The discontinuities introduced by the coronavirus pandemic mean that for many of the HSE statistics (particularly those relating to injury and shorter latency ill health conditions), it is not possible to make meaningful statistical assessments of trend across the most recent years. In the 2021 statistical commentaries, the regulator has instead presented trends prior to the pandemic period and commented on whether there has been any change in the most recent year compared to the pre-coronavirus level.
Injury incidence rates for 2020/21 have been produced on the same basis as in previous years, namely as rate of injury per 100,000 workers. However, in 2020/21 these rates will be an under-estimate relative to the population at risk, says the report. This is since the employment estimates include people who were on furlough, thus inflating the size of the at-risk population. As some industries were more affected by furlough than others, this impact is variable across different groups.
Estimates of the rate of self-reported work-related ill health in 2020/21 are more broadly comparable, methodologically speaking, with estimates from earlier years. As you don’t need to be at work to suffer a work-related illness, the rate calculation assumes a slightly wider definition of number of workers, namely anyone who has worked in the last 12 months, regardless of whether for the full year. Furlough therefore doesn’t impact on these rates in the same way as injury rates.
The figure for the total number of self-reported ill health cases in 2020/21 is impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and two new estimates to help understand the contribution of the coronavirus pandemic to work-related ill health in 2020/21 have been produced:
- COVID-19 which may have been due to exposure to coronavirus at work, as reported by workers
- other work-related illness caused or made worse by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as reported by workers.
The report explores the construction and statistical interpretation of these data. It is stressed that an important limitation is that such estimates should not be simply subtracted from the overall work-related ill health estimates to assess the scale without the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. It is not known whether some of the people reporting a coronavirus-related ill health condition would have developed and reported an ill health condition if pre-pandemic working practices had continued.
A small number of data sources have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic to such an extent that no new data is available in the 2021 statistics publication: namely both working days lost due to workplace injury or work-related ill health and costs to Britain of workplace injuries and new cases of work-related ill health. Issues with data collection also mean that there is no update for 2020/21 of violence at work from the headline data source Crime Survey for England and Wales, though limited information on violence at work in 2020/21 is available from secondary sources (Labour Force Survey and RIDDOR). The report provides more details about the impact of coronavirus on all the main health and safety data sources.
The Impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the interpretation of Health and Safety Statistics 2020/21 The Technical Report, is available in full here.
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