• 29 May 2014

Illness and injuries in the workplace

Every year, there are around 13,000 deaths in the UK caused by work-related illnesses, while workplace injuries cost the UK economy more than £5bn in 2011/2012. The majority of those injuries occur amongst manual labourers, such as agricultural, transport and construction workers, however injuries can strike in any workplace. This eye-opening infographic, created by Westermans International, highlights some of the most common causes of workplace injuries and the true cost that those injuries and illnesses have on individual businesses and society as a whole.

As the infographic shows, the most common cause of accidents is slips and trips, with falls from a height also being a serious concern. In addition, injuries related to lifting and carrying things are also very common. However, the good news is that the vast majority of these injuries are preventable through proper training and the provision of adequate safety equipment.

Preventing injuries in the workplace

Most manual handling injuries occur when people take shortcuts – either picking things up incorrectly, or attempting to handle a load by themselves when it really requires a hydraulic lift or more than one person to manoeuvre it. Regular training and the fostering of a workplace culture that discourages taking shortcuts can prevent these types of injuries.

The same is true for slips and trips. Use of proper signage to warn people about wet floors, and strict health and safety guidelines regarding litter, loose wiring and uneven surfaces goes a long way towards preventing such injuries. In addition, employers should provide adequate PPE, such as non-slip footwear, to employees that need such equipment.

Any employee that regularly works on roofs or scaffolding, or otherwise spends time at a height, should be given regular safety training, and also provided with appropriate safety equipment, including hard hats, harnesses etc. Certifications should be renewed pro-actively, and a culture of “safety first” should be reinforced at every opportunity. Falls are not the most common cause of injury, but they do cause the highest percentage of fatal injuries, so they must be taken seriously.

Long term illnesses and the workplace

Work related health conditions can be divided into two main categories – long latency conditions and more short term common health conditions. Long latency conditions include very serious cancers and respiratory diseases that are caused by previous exposure to dust, asbestos fibres and harmful chemicals. Eyesight problems related to repeated exposure to intense light from a welding torch, and nerve damage such as vibration white finger can also take a long time to manifest themselves.

Common health conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders, skin conditions, or short term “arc eye” and stress appear more quickly, and are often easier to treat, or at least manage by reducing exposure to the condition or environment that is causing the problem.

There is little that employers can do today to help someone who is already suffering from mesothelioma or any cancer caused by exposure to dust, fibres and chemicals, however we can do our bit to protect the next generation of workers by providing respiratory equipment and other safety gear. Welders can be protected from arc eye by being trained to always wear protective goggles or masks, while other conditions, such as musculoskeletal disorders that affect agricultural workers can be prevented through safety training, more frequent breaks, and the provision of better equipment. Manual labourers in particular should be encouraged to take regular breaks or to rotate the jobs that they do to avoid repetitive strain injuries.

Stress is a harder condition to manage, but there are things that employers can do to help. Employees should be encouraged to take regular holidays, and anyone consistently putting in long hours should be offered support to ensure that they do not burn out. In some cases, reduced hours or an alternative position within the same company may help someone who is suffering from stress to get back on their feet.


Injured and ill employees have an adverse effect on your business, can impact the morale of other employees, and have a knock-on effect on the broader economy too. As an employer, it is your duty to try to protect your employees as much as possible, and if the worst does happen, employers should be willing to provide staff with the support and assistance needed while they recover from the condition.