Decrease in work related injury in 2020
The facts, as reported by HSE:
- UK work related injuries were down 6% in 2019/2020 vs 2018/2019.
- Musculoskeletal disorders (mainly back and neck pain) accounted for 30% of work-related ill health & work related injuries in 2019/2020; and 40% of NHS staff absences.
- The health and social care sector is in the top 3 industries that suffer the most.
- 44% of employees injured at work suffer from manual handling injuries, followed by 22% of cases caused by working in awkward or tiring positions and 14% caused by keyboard or repetitive work.
Every year there are 1,420 employees per 100,000 in the human health and social care industry who suffer from musculoskeletal work related injuries. This is 25% higher than the average 1,130 per 100,00 across all industries today.
However, the good news is that the prevalence of all work related injuries has dropped in the last 12 months. In 2019/2020, there were 8.9 million working days lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders, a decrease of 6% compared to 9.5 million in 2016/2017.
Work related injuries
The most common work-related musculoskeletal injuries include back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain. Typically these are caused by over-stretching, lifting a heavy weight, having a poor grip on the load as well as twisting the back.
As the chart below shows, 24% less people have been searching Google for “musculoskeletal disorders” in the 30 weeks during the Covid-19 pandemic from February 2020 onwards. This confirms the data that there has been a decline in this type of work related injury.
Is this overall decrease due to an improvement in manual handling expertise? Or is there another reason? We investigate the different working practices and how these have changed during the last 12 months.
Manual handling of Covid-19 patients
As we are all aware, the healthcare sector’s focus this year has been on managing the Covid-19 crisis. During this time many non-ICU staff have been called in to help the ICU teams. This work has included turning sick patients into the prone position to aid breathing. Perhaps these movements have been typically achieved by a larger team, rather than by just 1 or 2 staff. The team working together to keep the patient stable during the turning manoeuvre, could potentially reduce the risk of work related injuries for the staff.
On the other hand, as the pandemic progressed, staff have been self-isolating, or sick with Covid-19 themselves. The resulting staff shortages on wards has meant that nursing staff have been overworked and exhausted, potentially causing an increased risk of injury.
Home working during the pandemic
There’s also the possibility that the reduction of people in the workplace has caused the decline in cases recorded. According to ONS, 47% of workers did some work from home in April, which continued on for a few months or longer for 36% of workers. Repetitive strain injuries caused by working on a laptop at the kitchen table have probably not been recorded in the same way as before the pandemic.
Job losses due to the lockdown
According to a recent report in the Telegraph, nearly 172k jobs have been lost or are at risk of being cut this year, due to the pandemic. Tourism, hospitality and the arts sectors as well as non-ecommerce retail businesses have suffered considerably during the lockdown. However, the impact has also been felt by many supporting sectors, causing widespread unemployment. This has led to an additional 0.6% British workers out of work. Coupled with an approximate 9.6 million workers who have been furloughed and are therefore also not in the workplace.
Less workers in the workplace would logically equate to less injuries in the workplace – but is this really the case? In companies which have had to reduce staffing numbers to stay in business, the remaining employees have more to do (and less time to do it). This typically leads to accidents. Therefore, this might not be a contributing factor to the injury decrease.
Overall, the news that work related injuries are in decline is very positive. But we need to be aware that it might be short-lived, as we can’t pin-point exactly why the decrease has occurred. When the economy finally stabilises and hospital admissions of Covid-19 patients subsides, we may find that the injury ratio goes back to pre-Covid levels.
Also, there’s a possibility that the decrease from the movement to homeworking is hiding what is actually an increase in work related injuries for health and social care staff.
Continue to avoid work related injuries
Healthcare and social care workers can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders at work. Ensure staff safety by using the right patient handling equipment for each situation. Interweave Healthcare offers a wide range of patient handling aids. Browse the flat slide sheets, flat slide sheets with handles, tubular slide sheets, transfer sheets and other manual handling aids.
Musculoskeletal disorders (HSE)
Overall Statistics (HSE)
Work related injuries data: 2019/2020 (HSE), 2018/2019 (HSE), 2017/2018 (HSE)
Article about musculoskeletal disorders (Public Health Matters)
Home working data 2020 (ONS)
Article about job losses (Telegraph)
Article about homeworking in 2020 (Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research)