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Employees suffering from stress, depression or anxiety on the rise

Lawyers warn employers to consider their duty of care in safeguarding staff mental health

5 December 2014

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Over 1.2 million employees suffered from some form of illness during the last year, a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) study has found.

The figures showed that more than half a million of those employees developed a new ailment during that time and that800,000 had already been out of work for over a year due to a newly-acquired illness from their past employment.

Around a third (34 per cent) of the newly-acquired illnesses were musculoskeletal in nature, while almost 46 per cent were related to stress, depression or anxiety.

Commenting on the findings in the report, Emma Simcox-Oliver, head of the industrial disease department at Asons Solicitors, said: "The massive increase in stress, depression and anxiety claims at 46 per cent is shocking but clearly demonstrative of ever increasing pressures within modern working lives. This figure will continue a steep incline until such time as employers begin to take seriously their liability and duty of care to safeguard employees' mental health."

Fatal illnesses

Serious, long-term and potentially fatal illnesses also still figure in the research. There are around 8,000 occupational cancer deaths each year. More than half of these deaths are caused by previous workplace exposure to asbestos that led to either lung cancer or mesothelioma. Close to 2,500 people die from mesothelioma each year and these fatalities are expected to peak in 2017.

Hundreds more lung cancers were also named as having been caused by inhaling substances, such as diesel exhaust fumes. However, with around 4,000 deaths, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is still the single biggest killer.

The HSE report also examines workplace fatalities, with 133 deadly injuries recorded so far for 2013/14. Employees suffer fatal accidents in construction, agriculture or waste and recycling industries more than any others.

In addition, 77,593 non-fatal injuries were also reported. Slips and trips were the most common kind of accident (28 per cent), followed by those incurred while handling, lifting or carrying (24 per cent), while another one in ten were due to being hit by moving objects.

Despite these figures, the UK's health and safety performance in terms of injuries, fatalities and work-related illness is, in most cases, better than the rest of the EU.

Economic cost

The study also found that 28.2 million working days were lost due to injury and illness in the last year. Of that figure 23.5 million were due to illness and 4.7 million were as a result of injury. The average time lost per case of injury or illness is just over 15 days.

Although new figures covering the economic cost of these absences have yet to be released, statistics from 2012/13 estimated that £14.2bn in productivity were lost.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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