Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC) seminar by:
Dr Emma Donaldson-Feilder
Dr Paul Litchfield
Wednesday 16th November 13:00-14:00
A lunchtime seminar with two of the authors of the latest published report into workplace related suicide will discuss the findings of the WHEC Evidence Review on Work Related Suicide:
- Suicide risk varies strongly between occupational groups in the UK, with the highest risks chiefly in workers in low skilled, and some skilled, positions. The likely links between suicide and these occupations are precarious employment with episodes of unemployment, a largely male workforce, relatively high incidence of workplace accidents and lack of consistent social support. High rates of alcohol and drug misuse are also associated with increased risk of suicide.
- In the UK, there are no systematic methods of taking an overview of employee suicides in an organisation or workplace. It would be beneficial to establish a way of recording instances of suicide where the contribution made by work may have been material. WHEC recommends that HSE consider whether the existing Memorandum of Understanding with the Chief Coroner of England and Wales, together with a similar arrangement with Scotland, could provide the basis for acquiring such information.
“While there are clear differences in risks of suicide between occupational groups in the UK, current means to identify high risk organisations and workplaces are weak.”WHEC.
Dr Emma Donaldson-Feilder is a Registered Occupational Psychologist with a particular focus on the role of leadership and line management on employee health and wellbeing. Emma has been a member of WHEC since it was created in 2015.
Dr Paul Litchfield, is Independent Chief Medical Adviser to ITV & Compass Group and visiting Professor to Coventry University. [ed: He was also British Telecom Group Chief Medical Officer for many years]
WHEC: The development of policy in HSE needs to be informed by the best available contemporary scientific evidence.
HSE formed WHEC to provide independent expert advice on:
- new and emerging workplace health issues
- new and emerging evidence relating to existing workplace health issues
- the quality and relevance of the evidence base on workplace health issues
You can read the full evidence in the review paper by going to the Unionsafety E-Library, searching within the category of 'HSE Reports and Documents', and using the search word 'suicide'
Meanwhile, the report's Executive Summary details the key points of the report:
• There is strong evidence of variation in suicide risk between occupations. The determinants of this are complex,
encompassing societal, cultural and individual factors which probably change with time.
• Currently, the occupations with the highest absolute and relative risks of suicide are chiefly those employing workers in low skilled, and some skilled, positions. The likely correlates are precarious employment with episodic unemployment,
a predominantly male workforce, a relatively high incidence of workplace accidents and lack of consistent social
support. High rates of alcohol and drug misuse are also associated with increased risk of suicide.
• Proportional mortality rates are high in some occupations – veterinary practice, farming, dentistry, hospitality and
cultural work - where the factors above may be less relevant than access to means of suicide and selection of
• The evidence for a direct role of psychosocial work stressors, including social isolation, bullying and job strain, on the
risk of suicide is limited and somewhat inconsistent.
• While suicide not infrequently occurs in spatio-temporal clusters, it appears that this has not been studied in the
context of individual workplaces or employers.
• Some jurisdictions – notably those in Japan, the US and France – formally recognise a category of work-related
suicide; this is not the case in the UK.
• There are, in the UK, no systematic methods of collating employee suicides within an organisation or workplace. To
address this, WHEC considers it important that HSE obtains a reliable estimate of the frequency of suicides, to which
the contribution made by work may have been material.
• WHEC therefore recommends that HSE investigate the options available to HSE to obtain reliable information about
the number of suicides each year where the contribution made by work may have been material. In particular, in view
of the Memorandum of Understanding between HSE and coroners in England and Wales and their responsibilities
in relation to Preventing Future Deaths, WHEC recommends that HSE consider whether this, together with a similar
arrangement with Scotland, could provide the basis for acquiring such information.
In order to attend the free seminar, you must first register via the Eventbrite website using this direct link
Other WHEC reports
WHEC's reports cover evidence reviews and position papers giving their independent expert opinion on key topics for workplace health. The contents of WHEC reports, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy. Go to their website here