For regulatory compliance, UK businesses must complete workplace risk assessments and put measures in place to reduce risks of injury and death. These focus on physical health, yet, we believe it should extend to mental health too. At present, there is no requirement for businesses to record any information about workplace suicides and they are not investigated by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Isn’t it time for change?
Why is Suicide Not Investigated by the HSE?
Suicides are currently not reportable because they are not classified as an accident. Death by suicide is not seen as something the employer could have prevented. However, the lack of reporting and investigation means that patterns aren’t noticed. If we had the data, there could be significant insight into professions and employers where suicide rates are abnormally high. Action could then be taken to reduce or prevent suicide.
In addition, we want it to become law that all UK businesses have a workplace suicide policy. We believe that this will drive change in attitudes and actions, which could prevent unnecessary deaths and we are not alone.
British Medical Journal Calls for Suicides to be Investigated
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) responded to the death by suicide of Headteacher, Ruth Perry, with an article calling for change. The BMJ article* highlighted that this death is part of the result of a damning Ofsted inspection and it wasn’t an isolated case. It stressed that the mental health of teachers was impacted by Ofsted inspections and other work pressures.
It called on the HSE to:
“Investigate every work-related suicide, in whichever sector they occur and ensure that work-related suicides are subject to the same requirements for reporting and prevention as other occupational deaths. It should also launch an immediate inquiry into work related stress in the education sector.”
We agree and add the point that taking action to improve the mental well-being of teachers has a direct impact on the emotional support offered to pupils and students. This isn’t just about protecting the current workforce, but also equipping the next generation.
Unite Want the HSE Remit to be Expanded
The BMJ touched on the fact that this isn’t just an issue within teaching, a fact backed up by Unite. They have highlighted that extending the HSE remit to cover occupational suicides could help to tackle high death rates in industries including construction.
According to HSE data, Construction has the highest volume of work related deaths of any industry. In the past year, there have been 45 reported deaths and this doesn’t include suicides. The union implies that if suicide reporting was a requirement, there would be powers to investigate and enforce good practices.
“The vast majority of construction employers do not take the mental wellbeing of their workforce seriously and until the HSE is given the powers and the resources to investigate these tragedies properly that will continue to be the case.”
– Jason Poulter, Unite National Officer for Construction
WASP is keen to see all industries gain greater awareness of suicide and address issues that can cause a decline in the mental health of employees. This is of equal importance as physical well-being.
The Baton of Hope: A Time for Change
The Baton of Hope UK reached its final destination, Downing Street on 6 July, having passed through 12 UK cities since it left Glasgow a fortnight before. Baton bearers from across the UK have added personal stories and engaged with communities to build connections and help people feel that they are not alone. We were delighted to be involved, with Helen representing WASP in Edinburgh and Ellice in Brighton.
Rishi Sunak responded to this high-profile initiative with a video. In it, he committed to supporting the work of the Baton of Hope UK charity. He stated a need to reduce the stigma associated with suicide, so more people felt able to talk and access the support they need.
One step towards reducing stigma is requiring all businesses to have a Suicide Prevention Policy. A further action would be to add suicide reporting and investigation to the HSE remit. We encourage the UK Government to consider these steps and help save lives.