Overview of the technical note - Workplace injury and work-related illness survey modules of the Labour Force Survey: Background and methods

A major source of information about work-related ill health, workplace injuries and working days lost comes from two Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sponsored questionnaire modules attached to the national Labour Force Survey (LFS) - The Workplace Injury survey module (see Annex 1) and the Self-reported Work-related Illness (SWI) survey module (see Annex 2). The LFS, which is a quarterly survey of households, is the single most comprehensively reported data source for information about work-related illness and injuries and a main source of information on working days lost.

A 'workplace injury' survey module was first included in the LFS in 1990, with a limited question set included annually since 1993/94. Questions were included in the LFS winter quarter prior to 2006/07, and in quarter one since then when the LFS moved from seasonal to calendar quarters. The LFS gives estimates of the levels of workplace injury by a range of demographic and employment-related variables.

The SWI survey module has been included annually in the LFS from 2003/04 to 2011/12; in quarter one since 2006/07 and the winter quarter prior to this. The module was also included periodically prior to 2003/04, in 1990, 1995, 1998/99 and 2001/02 (although results prior to 2001/02 are not directly comparable with later time periods).  The SWI survey module was suspended for one year in 2012/13, but from 2013/14 returned to annual data collection in quarter one of the LFS. The SWI survey module provides an indication of the overall prevalence (including longstanding as well as new cases) and incidence (new cases) of work-related illness and its distribution by major disease groups and a range of demographic and employment-related variables (collected in the main LFS). Responses obviously depend on laypeople's perceptions of medical matters, and such perceptions are of interest and are important in their own right. However, they cannot be taken as an indicator of the "true" extent of work-related illness. People's beliefs may be mistaken: they may ascribe the cause of illness to work when there is no such link; and may fail to recognise a link with working conditions when there is one, e.g. due to the possible multifactorial nature of ill health or the delay between exposure and ill health (which can be several decades in the case of cancer).

Both the workplace injury and the SWI survey modules have since 2003/04 (and periodically prior to this) also provided information about the number of working days lost due to workplace injuries and work-related ill health with the exception of 2012/13 when no ill health data was collected and 2020/21 when the data collection was affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Estimates of working days lost for both workplace injuries and work-related ill health are expressed as full-day equivalent days to take account of the variation in daily hours worked (for example part-timers who work a short day or people who work particularly long hours). This information is available by a range of demographic and employment-related variables.

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Updated 2021-12-08