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Dying at work. Work-related suicide – how does the UK regulatory context measure up?

Sarah Waters (School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Hilda Palmer (Families Against Corporate Killing and Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, Manchester, UK)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 11 January 2022

Issue publication date: 10 February 2022

188

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine how work-related suicides are monitored, investigated and regulated in the UK, examining a small selection of cases and drawing on international comparison with other countries. Effective data collection and regulation are the cornerstone of suicide prevention, and this paper aims to consider whether the UK’s current regulatory framework provides an effective basis for preventing work-related suicides.

Design/methodology/approach

This study draws on qualitative sociological methods and is based on an in-depth analysis of 12 suicide cases occurring between 2015 and 2020. In each case, work-related causal factors had been previously identified by at least one official source (police enquiry, coroner or employer’s investigation). This study analysed multiple sources of documentation and undertook interviews with individuals close to each suicide case. The aim of this study was to consider the organisational response of three stakeholder organisations to the suicides: the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the coroner and the employer.

Findings

The study points to serious shortcomings in the UK’s regulatory response to work-related suicides. Suicides are currently not recorded, investigated or regulated. Whereas the fracture of an arm or leg in the workplace needs to be reported to the HSE for further investigation, a suicide occurring in the workplace or that is work-related does not need to be reported to any public agency. Employers are not required to investigate an employee suicide or make any changes to workplace policies and practices in the aftermath of a suicide. The work-related factors that may have caused one suicide may, therefore, continue to pose health and safety risks to other employees.

Originality/value

Whereas some recent studies have examined work-related suicides within specific occupations in the UK, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to analyse the UK’s regulatory framework for work-related suicides. The study on which the paper is based produced a set of recommendations that were targeted at key stakeholder organisations.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This study has been supported with funding from Research England (Quality-related Research Strategic Priorities Funding).

Citation

Waters, S. and Palmer, H. (2022), "Dying at work. Work-related suicide – how does the UK regulatory context measure up?", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 35-45. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPMH-09-2021-0114

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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