HSE Statistics focus on work-related ill health – what employers need to know
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released its annual statistics on workplace health and safety and they make interesting reading for employers.
In 2022, around 1.8 million workers suffered from work-related ill health, both new and long-standing. A significant proportion of these cases were related to mental health, an increasingly common feature of modern workplaces.
rradar Health and Safety Specialists Ken Cook and Lucy Gordon have looked at the statistics and analysed what they tell us about the issues and the measures that can be used to tackle them.
50% of new or long-standing conditions are stress, depression or anxiety.
An estimated 914,000 cases of stress, depression or anxiety are reported annually, including 372,000 new cases per year.
This shows a rate of 2,750 cases per 100,000 in 2022, compared to a rate of 2,480 cases per 100,000 workers in 2021.
The industries of public administration, Defence, Human Health/Social Work and Education all had significantly higher rates than the all-industry average.
So, what’s causing these figures?
The previous two years have seen incredibly rapid changes in how and where people are working. For many, there’s a huge level of insecurity regarding their jobs and income, particularly with the threat of recession looming. For those who have kept their jobs, the intensity of work, including longer hours and the blurring of the work/life boundary has exacerbated that. For some people, remote working may have brought benefits but for others who might thrive on social contact, being away from the workplace will have increased feelings of isolation and stress. Additionally, significant increases in fuel and food bills are piling on the pressure. All these factors have the potential to affect workers’ health – and have done, in many cases.
In the workplace, factors that have been identified as causes of stress, depression or anxiety include a lack of managerial support, organisational changes, violence and role uncertainty.
Unsurprisingly, the highest rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety are found in workplaces with a high level of public interaction, or where the job involves dealing with society’s most vulnerable. Customer services, health, teaching and social care occupations all take a physical and mental toll on workers.
What steps can employers take?
Businesses and employers in these sectors – and indeed, all sectors – have not only a statutory duty to ensure the wellbeing of employees, but also a moral duty to provide support and protection to workers – particularly in frontline health, social care and customer-facing roles. This also makes economic sense as workers who feel that their employer cares about their wellbeing will be more committed and thereby reduce the level of staff turnover.
There are several steps that employers can take to ensure that the wellbeing of their workforce is prioritised:
Just like any other risk, mental health is not some amorphous threat that can’t be quantified, measured or prevented. Employers need to carry out risk assessments on workplace environments to identify ways to reduce pressure on the mental health of their employees. A risk assessment consists of five steps:
Step 1: identify the hazards
Step 2: list who might be harmed and how
Step 3: evaluate the risks and decide control measures
Step 4: record your findings and create an action plan
Step 5: review your risk assessment annually and when anything changes
The role of the manager
This will include:
Providing an environment in which staff know they can talk to their manager if they experience mental health problems.
Matching the way they manage their employees to the needs of each staff member.
Monitoring levels of work – setting realistic and achievable targets and ensuring that staff are able to prioritise their work.
Establish regular one-to-one meetings and assessment to identify how projects are progressing, what challenges are ahead and the levels of support that may be needed.
Spotting the signs of mental illness
As with most other aspects of ill health, the earlier that a mental health problem can be identified, the easier it is to treat. With plenty of notice, managers can put support plans into place that can make a big difference.
Small signs can give valuable clues that something is amiss and could include:
Changes in behaviour and mood
Differences in the way that they interact with colleagues
Changes in the standard of their work or focus on tasks
Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn
Reduced interest in tasks they previously enjoyed
Changes in appetite or increase in smoking and drinking
Increase in sickness absence or turning up late to work.
Regularly checking with staff
Some types of mental ill health will not produce obvious symptoms. Managers need to get into the habit of regularly checking with team members about their worries and concerns and create an environment where employees feel it’s all right to be honest about their state of mind.
Wellness Action Plans
The employee is usually the best-placed to develop a plan to handle recurrences of mental health issues. Working with their manager, they can devise an Action Plan that can be used to identify:
Aspects of work that can trigger recurrences of mental ill health;
Symptoms and early warning signs that can enable the employee’s mental health to be managed proactively;
The effect that mental ill health may have on the employee’s performance; or
The kinds of support that they will need from their manager in order to manage their mental health.
This ties in with mental health risk assessments, mentioned above.
Employee Assistance Programmes
There may be instances in which employers do not feel they have the expertise or ability to tackle mental health problems themselves, and there are many external Employee Assistance Programmes from mental health providers which can address this if it is required.
Keep staff informed
As we have mentioned above, uncertainty about job prospects can increase levels of stress and anxiety in the workforce. Therefore, employers need to make sure that staff are kept informed of any relevant changes as soon as they are known about, together with the steps that are being taken due to those changes. This can avoid unfounded rumours spreading, which can, in themselves be a further cause of anxiety.