Call the Doctor: 4.3 Million Sick Days for Workers in the Last Three Years

Career Climbers / 27th November 2018

New research 1 from Direct Line for Business reveals workers took 4.3 million sick days between 2014 and 2017, with 568,000 being the result of an accident in the workplace. Employers are losing on average 1.4 million days of workers’ productivity each year due to sickness.  

Since 2014, every day on average 3,927 workers have called in sick to work and 147,000 have been off for more than seven consecutive days. The construction industry alone lost 392,000 work days between 2014 and 2017 due to employees self-reporting illness caused or made worse by their job.  

Stress, depression or anxiety are the most common illnesses keeping people off work, with more than 12.5 million days lost by more than 526,000 workers in the 2016/17 financial year alone. Musculoskeletal disorders, breathing or lung issues, upper limb or neck problems are other common ailments that keep workers from attending their job. 

Construction industry focus

Showcasing just how risky working in the construction industry can be, between 2012 and 2017 there were 26,196 non-fatal accidents recorded on building sites and 196 fatal. Almost half (49 per cent) of fatal accidents on a building site were the result of workers falling from a height. However, not all dangers are high up. When it comes to non-fatal accidents, more than 100,0003 people were injured following a slip, trip or fall, while 84,734 recorded an injury when handling, lifting or carrying something. 

Table one: Top five causes of building site injuries

Most common injuries on a building site (non-fatal accidents)

Number recorded between 2012 and 2017

Share of all injuries

Slips, trips and falls on same level



Injured while handling, lifting or carrying



Struck by moving object



Fall from a height



Acts of violence



 Source: Direct Line for Business 2018

 During 2015/16, a total of 246 construction cases were brought to trial by the Health and Safety Executive for safety failings that resulted in at least one conviction, while 205 of these cases (83 per cent) resulted in the employer being issued with a fine. In the following year (2016/17), the number of cases brought to trial that resulted in a conviction fell to 206, with the number of fines also falling to 156 (76 per cent). In the same time-period 65 Improvement Notices2 and 53 Prohibition Notices2 were served.

Regionally, the East and South East have had the highest number of prosecution cases by the Health and Safety Executive. Thirty-nine successful convictions were recorded between 2012 and 2017. London (30) and Wales, and the South West (25) complete the top three for the number of convictions in this time-period. 

Table two: HSE prosecutions by geographical region, 2012-2017


Number of prosecutions

Proportion of total prosecutions

East and South East






Wales and South West



Yorkshire and North East



North West









Source: Direct Line for Business 2018

Proving that improvements have been made and lessons learned, 2016/17 saw the lowest number of fatal accidents in the construction industry in the last five years with just 30 deaths, compared to 47 in 2015/16. This decrease was driven by a decline in the number of fatal accidents caused by falling from a height (down 27 per cent), while deaths caused by being trapped by a collapsed or overturned item fell by 88 per cent.

Matt Boatwright, Head of Direct Line for Business, said: “Our research highlights that further improvements could be made to ensure productivity does not suffer due to sick days following accidents at work. Many jobs are dangerous, but the construction industry in particular comes with a lot of risks. A simple slip or fall could have disastrous consequences for an employee and a business as a whole.

“Business owners should ensure they have the appropriate cover in place to cover them should they be liable for an accident occurring due to the work they are undertaking. Employers’ liability will cover them if an employee is injured and public liability cover will be required in the event that an injury is caused to a third party.

Direct Line for Business’ top tips for staying safe on site: 

  1. Check tools and equipment regularly and make sure employees are wearing the correct protective gear
  2. Ensure training programmes are introduced and up-to-date to maintain good safety standards
  3. Register for the Construction Skills Certification Scheme – this is a great way for employers to make sure everyone on site has the appropriate qualifications and training for the job they are doing
  4. Ensure risk assessments and method statements are done to make everyone onsite aware of any risks they may face on site
  5. Display clear signage to warn workers and the public of any potential dangers. 

Matt Boatwright continued, “It’s reassuring to see there are areas where improvements have been made and fewer people are being injured, but businesses shouldn’t become complacent and remain on top of these things to constantly improve.”  

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