Workplace injury and ill-health – the true costs

Work health & safety

Evidence matters. That is why when we look at the whole issue of workplace safety, the statistics matter. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) produce a wealth of figures on many topics. Some may be more pertinent than others, but generally most of them have some relevance.

For today, we want to look at just how much accidents and ill-health within the workplace costs us all.

Each year the HSE issues a report setting out precisely these details. The figures should make us all pause for thought.

The annual costs of workplace injury in 2015/16 was estimated at £5.3 billion. The annual costs of work related ill health for the same year was around £9.6 billion.

That’s a total of almost £15 billion for workplace injury and ill-health in 2015/16.

It is estimated that the following year in 2016/17, 31.2 million working days were lost due to work related ill-health and workplace injuries. That is up by 0.8 million from the previous year.

Consequently, this means that roughly every single person is off work for one day due to work injury or ill health.

This cost manifests itself in a number of different ways – there is the human cost to the individual injured or suffering from ill-health, as well as the financial cost due to impact on earnings, and having to meet costs associated with the injury.

There is also the cost to the employer of not having the employee present, and having to pay sick pay and other administrative expenses as well as potentially additional insurance premiums as a consequence.

Significantly, there is the cost to the state, which is threefold. First, the benefits that need to be paid to injured victims, second the cost of medical treatment and rehabilitation provided by the NHS, and third the loss of revenue from income tax and national insurance.

Each of these runs into the billions of pounds. There is also the factor of injured people’s economic activity being reduced which has an effect on the wider economy.

As with other sets of HSE statistics, a long term downward trend in the level of total costs, seen between 2004/05 and 2009/10, has now levelled off. The reason for this was that there was a reduction in the number of workplace injuries over that period. The injuries have remained broadly level for half a decade, so the costs follow in a similar vein.

With over 600,000 workplace injuries a year, and around 5.5 million working days lost, we cannot afford to lose focus on reducing those numbers to as low a level as possible.

Workers should not be put at risk of injury simply for doing their job. Employers need to focus on adequate risk assessments and preventing injuries where possible.

The challenge is only going to become harder with Brexit, and a government whose priorities lie elsewhere. However, it is one we cannot afford to lose.

Gordon Dalyell

Gordon Dalyell,
Digby Brown