Bringing stress to work can be fatal

British Safety Council launches a film showing how stress endangers lives

A powerful new film launched by the British Safety Council shows how stress can lead to injury and fatalities at work. In any activity where concentration is vital for safety, such as working in construction, driving, or in health and social care, stress can be fatal.

Stress is often discussed in relation to sickness absence. However, it’s less reported how it can endanger lives. Some research shows that up to 80% of accidents are related to stress at work. Whether it is work-related stress or stress that people bring to work, stress can put at risk the safety of both employees and members of the public.

Matthew Holder, Head of Campaigns and Engagement at the British Safety Council, commented: “It is well documented that stress is a significant cause of sickness absence, undermining both productivity and profitability. What is less discussed is how stress can endanger lives. Evidence shows that stress significantly contributes to injuries in sectors such as construction, transport and agriculture. In the medical profession, stress is a major predictor of work-related accidents and there are strong links between fatigue and sharps injuries.

“We made The last word to warn people that being tired, distracted and unable to fully concentrate can make simple tasks like climbing a ladder more dangerous. Aimed at employees, it contains a warning that being stressed can endanger their lives. However, the film is also directed at employers, showing how important it is that managers and supervisors identify the symptoms of stress and help their staff to deal with it. As the film says, life can be stressful but people need to be aware of the danger signs.”

Information accompanying the film reinforces this message. It describes common symptoms of stress and actions that employees can take to reduce stress. The film is part of the British Safety Council campaign Speak Up, Stay Safe, targeted at younger employees to raise their awareness of risks at work. It’s the first time the campaign has tackled stress.

There is a lot of statistical evidence demonstrating the consequences of stress at work:

  • In 2014/15, 440,000 people in the UK reported work-related stress at a level they believed was making them ill. That's 40% of all work-related illness (source: HSE).
  • Stress is believed to be a major cause of accidents in the workplace, with evidence showing that 60-80% of accidents are related to workplace stress.[1]
  • A survey of 2,500 doctors found that job stress was a major predictor of work-related accidents.[2]. Fatigue, in particular, is associated with a threefold increased risk of sharps injuries in medical trainees compared with other healthcare workers.³

[1] Cooper, Liukkonen & Cartwright; European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.

[2] Kirkcaldy, Trimpop & Cooper; Working hours, job stress, work satisfaction, and accident rates among medical practitioners and allied personnel.

[3] Fisman et al; Fatigue increases the risk of injury from sharp devices in medical trainees: results from a case-crossover study.

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