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Health and social work is the UK’s ‘riskiest’ industry, research finds

Human health and social work professionals ranked the highest for risk of stress, depression and anxiety.

11/01/24

Health and social work is the UK’s ‘riskiest’ industry, research finds

Social work has been revealed as the UK’s ‘riskiest’ profession, alongside health care workers, with the highest proportion of stressed, depressed, and anxious employees of any industry.

The research from money.co.uk looked at injury and illness rates for workers across various UK industries from the last 3 years; finding that human health and social work activities ranks as the ‘riskiest’ industry, reaching a combined score of 8.22/10 for risk. Professionals in the sector also had the highest rate of workplace illness of all industries at an average of 6,860 incidents per 100,000 workers each year.

Researchers also discovered that social work has the highest rate of incidences of illness from stress, depression, or anxiety, at a rate of 3,530 per 100,000 workers since 2021.

“For most industries in the UK, their workplace environments are safe and secure. However, in other industries, burnout, stress, and anxiety can be more common,” said Kyle Eaton, a money.co.uk business insurance expert who worked on the research.

“The human health and social work industry was revealed as the most risky industry in our analysis, resulting from the severe rates of illness caused or made worse by stress, depression or anxiety resulting from these jobs.”

Agriculture, forestry and fishing ranked as the second riskiest industry with an overall risk score of 7.31, while public administration and defence; compulsory social security had the third-highest combined risk score of UK industries at 6. This industry has the second-highest prevalence of workplace illness at 5,350 per 100,000 workers and the second-highest prevalence of stress, depression and anxiety at 3,260 per 100,000 workers.

The findings echo previous surveys showing burnout pressures for social workers. A 2022 national survey by the Social Workers Union showed that UK social workers face growing caseloads and are working longer hours, even more than other professionals such as teachers, doctors and nurses. Results of that research across the six years showed that working conditions had worsened during the pandemic, and had improved slightly since the restrictions eased. Even so, social work compared badly to other occupations across the public, private and third sector. Asked what support they received during the pandemic, many social workers said that they received none. A frequent response was that, “We are expected to just get on with it.”

The results of the survey led to the Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions Good Practice Toolkit, written by Professor Ravalier and Dr Ruth Allen, BASW’s Chief Executive Officer. It is an online resource that aims to accelerate action to improve conditions across the workplace.

Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions Good Practice Toolkit available from: https://www.basw.co.uk/social-worker-wellbeing-and-working-conditions-0

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