Occupational Health

by Anna Harrington

Some UK statistics

The following statistics have been taken from the Health and Saftey Executive (HSE) key annual figures 2009/10 and relate to fatal injuries. This is a start point for looking at the data which relates to the effects of work on health, but it does not reveal the complete picture:

  • Accident figures are more easily collated as the result is usually instant; in other words, the consequence of an accident on the health of a population or individual is felt straight away
  • The extent of work-related ill-health is more difficult to estimate, due to the cause often being hidden. Take, for example, the effects of stress on blood pressure and the cardio-vascular system: stress is a subjective sensation and not seen by anyone, but felt by the individual. Problems can also arise due to the time lag between exposure and disease development, as is the case with asbestosis, for example.

In the UK, data is collected by the HSE using a number of mechanisms, such as RIDDOR, and occupational health collecting systems such as EPIDERM and OSMI. Data can also be extrapolated from the Labour Force Survey.

Fatal injuries by sector: 2009/10 (UK)

Industry Employees Self-employed
All industries
Extractive and utility supply

HSE report that the rate of fatal injury for 2009/10 represents a statistically significant decrease compared with the average rate for the previous five years. HSE do caution that these types of statistics are subject to ‘chance variation’ from year to year, but there is an underlying downward trend. Some 131,895 other injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR.

Self-reported work-related accidents and ill-health


Results from the Labour Force Survey – 246,000 reportable injuries.

In 2008/09, some 1.2 million UK workers said they suffered from an illness (long-standing as well as new cases) they believed was caused or made worse by their current or past work. Of these, 551,000 were new cases.

Some 29.3 million days were lost overall (1.24 days per worker) –24.6 million due to work-related ill health and 4.7 million due to workplace injury.


A breakdown reveals the key areas where managers need to consider occupational health issues. You’ll note that musculoskeletal disorders were by far the most common, followed by stress, which includes depression or anxiety.

The following pie-chart is taken from the HSE website and displays the significance of musculoskeletal disorders and stress. It was complied with figures taken from RIDDOR and the labour force survey. This means the figures are both self-reported and from diagnosed conditions. Injuries are according to the RIDDOR classification.

Source: Health and Safety Executive

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD)

In 2009-10, some 248,000 people claimed they were suffering from an MSD which was caused or made worse by their past or current work (Labour Force Survey). The incidence rate has fallen from 2001-2. It is estimated that 9.3 million working days were lost due to MSDs in 2009-10.


In the year 2009-10, some 435, 000 people claimed they suffered from stress that was caused or made worse by their current or past jobs. It is estimated that 9.8 million working days were lost, due to work-related stress.

Hearing damage

In 2009–10, 21,000 individuals thought that they had a hearing problem which was caused or made worse by current or past work.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome

This includes vibration white finger and carpal tunnel syndrome. In 1997-8, 288,000 people were diagnosed as having vibration white finger and there were about 500 newly-diagnosed cases of carpal tunnel syndrome. These figures are extracted from the Industrial Injuries Disablement Scheme statistics. This scheme is particularly strict about the classification of diseases: for instance, the loss of sensation felt by vibration white finger sufferers feel not cause them to be classified as having the disease and entitled to the benefit. The statistics therefore under-represent the number of people who experience symptoms relating to both of these diseases.

Skin disease

In 2009-10, 22,000 individuals were said to be suffering from a skin disorder which was caused or made worse by their current or past work. Some 20 per cent of these disorders were skin cancer.


In 2009-10, 38, 000 individuals were said to be suffering a breathing problem which they believed to relate to their work.

Chronic obstructive airways disease (COPD)

It is difficult to extract figures for COPD due to an industrial cause, as the disease has many causative agents and mechanisms.

Asbestos-related diseases

In 2008, 2249 deaths were related to mesothelioma, which is a disease caused by asbestos exposure.


Altogether, over the last ten years, 2000 people in the UK have been compensated due do occupational caused cancer. Again, it is very difficult to get a true picture of the extent of work–related cancer, due to cancer having many causative agents and time lags between exposure and disease development.

Key points

  • Generally, things are improving and the number of fatal accidents is decreasing. Some industries, notably agriculture, construction and mining, are significantly more dangerous than others.
  • Self-reported figures far exceed those which are formally reported. Self-reported are believed to be more accurate. There may be some exaggeration, but this is largely due to the limitations in the formal reporting systems, such as RIDDOR, and the under-reporting that goes on, particularly among SMEs.
  • Estimated numbers of those suffering from ill-health far exceed those of the injury statistics.
  • Some health conditions, notably MSD and mental health problems, are reported much more frequently.
  • The estimated number of lost days represents a very significant human, business and societal loss.