Health and Safety in 2014 – The Year in Review
As is customary in December, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released its annual round up of health and safety statistics for the year 2013-2014. And although health and safety provisions are thought to be improving year on year, some of the findings make for sobering reading.
Over a million workplace illnesses
According to the collected statistics, over 1.2 million people reported that they were suffering from a work-related illness. Although this is a significant number, the HSE makes clear that not all of these illnesses are new, nor were they necessarily acquired in roles this year. The figures simply state that 1.2 million continued to work despite illnesses brought about by workplace conditions at some point in the past. Just under half of these cases, approximately 500,000, were new conditions first reported during 2013/2014.
This does however mean that approximately 4% of the UK workforce was affected by workplace illnesses at some point during the last twelve months.
Workplace injuries are still cause for concern
Quoted by the HSE, statistics gathered by the Labour Force Survey suggest that 629,000 employees were injured at their place of work. The exact nature and severity of these injuries were not specified, but they still represent a significant cause of concern; around 2% of the total UK workforce was injured over the course of the year.
Workplace deaths – on the way down
Workplace deaths continue to fall, but there were still 133 employees killed at their place of work over the last year. Agriculture and construction remain the most dangerous industries for employees, although rising standards have seen mortality rates fall year on year.
Employment related cancer is still a concern
On average around 13,000 people die every year from lung disease and cancer caused by exposure to chemicals, asbestos or dust in the workplace. Of the 8000 cases of cancer recorded each year, the majority are related to historical asbestos exposure. In both cases these diseases take many years to develop and could have been caused by coming into contact with the substance 30 to 40 years ago.
Mesothelioma, a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer often associated with asbestos exposure, was responsible for 2535 deaths this year – a rise on 2011. However health experts expect cases of asbestos to peak within the next few years before dropping steadily as historical changes to asbestos law mean that less people have been exposed over the intervening period.
Other non-asbestos related causes of cancer were found to be silica inhalation, diesel engine exhaust fumes, exposure to mineral oils and breast cancer caused by shift work patterns. Again, many of these cases are caused by historical, long-term exposure to harmful chemicals – often before the introduction of the current Health and Safety at Work Act.
A positive sign for the future
Deaths caused by health and safety failings in the workplace are thankfully on a long term decline, showing that protective legislation really is improving conditions. Although there is still a long way to go until workplace fatalities reach zero, continued improvements like those seen this year are encouraging.
So over to you – what were your health and safety experiences this year?