Health and Safety within the workplace is a fundamental right

Work health & safety

Today is International Workers Memorial Day. We commemorate those who have lost their lives in the course of their employment. This year has particular resonance given the global events of the last 15 months.

The theme for this year is simple – Health and Safety within the workplace is a fundamental right. It sounds straightforward but is it?

Each year the Health and Safety Executive publish annual statistics relating to health and safety at work. The latest set, for 2020, do not cover the period since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even so, there are a number of headline figures which ought to cause us some concern.

The number of work-related ill health cases has increased from 1.4m in 2018/19 to 1.6m in 2019/20. Work-related stress, depression or anxiety cases, over the same period, also increased by 200,000, from 0.6m to 0.8m. The number of working days lost due to work-related ill-health, and workplace injuries increased from 28.2 million to 38.8 million.

The number of workers sustaining  a non-fatal injury also increased from 0.6m to 0.7m, though official fatal injury cases did fall from 147 to 111.

The increase in work-related stress, depression or anxiety cases has been evident over several years. Almost 350,000 new cases alone in 2019/20. The main causes of this trend are thought to be heavy workloads, lack of support, and threats/bullying within the workplace.

This, of course, has a financial effect as the estimated cost of work-related injury and new cases of ill health was £16.2 billion in 2018/19.

The numbers are only part of the analysis. Behind each case, whether a fatality, a workplace accident, or an incidence of ill-health, there is an individual, his or her family, and his or her work colleagues.

The full effect of the pandemic on our society and the workplace in particular is yet to be seen. The statistics for 2020/21 are likely to be stark. What we do know is that there have been significant and, in so many cases, devastating impacts on individual employees and their families. There are many challenges that we will face in the coming years. Organising the recovery from the pandemic. Restoring public services and reinvigorating the economy will be crucial. That however cannot be achieved by ignoring health and safety responsibilities. The challenge of dealing with the human and personal elements of this is huge. The psychological effects on so many of our society, but especially within the workplace, will be amongst the most important of the priorities that we require to deal with.

The governments across the UK are committed to holding inquiries into the pandemic, and how each acted and reacted to events. There will be many aspects to these inquiries, but one of the guiding, overarching principles throughout, ought to be the importance, and relevance, of health and safety.

Emphasising that health and safety within the workplace is a fundamental right is a message that can never be repeated too often.

Gordon Dalyell, Partner

Gordon Dalyell

Partner, Digby Brown