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The cost and impact of work-related illness to victims and the economy

September 9, 2013

The Health and Safety Executive’s figures for work-related illness uncover a shocking cost to UK industry. For the 2012-2013 trading year, £13.4bn was lost due to accident and illness. So just how does that figure equate?

First, it’s important to understand the strides companies can take to protect their workforce. Whether it’s working in an office or on the production line, the HSE has issued guidelines to help prevent accidents at work:

  • offer protective equipment and visibility clothing
  • ensure that machinery is well maintained and appropriately guarded
  • workspaces and traffic areas are clearly defined and unobstructed
  • office equipment is arranged to prevent long-term injury
  • perhaps most important of all, at least for the sake of prevention rather than cure, provide training for all employees who could be at even the slightest risk

HSE regulations can only go so far

Whilst the vast majority of organisations do all they can, there are still the uncontrollable elements of human error and machine breakdowns. Even the most fortified of machines cannot last forever, especially where there are many moving parts subject to intense heat, speed or pressure.

Fatalities are the furthest end of the spectrum of things that can go wrong at work. Thankfully, they are the least in number, too and the trend is heading in the right direction.

These facts will be of no comfort to the families of the 148 fatally-injured workers last year. That’s 3 people for every working week who don’t come home after setting out for work. Nor, for that matter, will the trend compensate the 172 bereaved families from 2011/12 or all of those who’ve gone before them.

They are the extreme cases. They do not, however, take into account the 12,000 deaths that are thought to be liked to work-related illness that happen every year. While less sudden, these deaths are no less upsetting for the families the ill-fated workers leave behind.

The HSE figures for work-related illness

One of the most intriguing figures from the HSE’s report, and something that seems to have been missed or glossed over in other overviews, is the amount of people who remain off work for longer than 12 months. This will shock you.

For 2011-2012, a total of 1.1 million people ‘were suffering’ – not ‘had suffered’ – work related illness. Of those, 452,000 were newly reported cases.

The fact that more than a million people were suffering is bad enough.

However, if my maths is anything like accurate, that means that there were 648,000 legacy cases, or cases that were still existing in 2011-2012 that weren’t newly reported.

This means they had to have been reported in the previous year(s) and were ongoing.

That figure correlates to numbers of work-related injuries that led to 3-days or more absenteeism. 591,000 suffered a work-related illness in total, 212,000 needing more than 3 days to recuperate whilst those needing more than 7 days convalescence was reportedly 156,000.

What is worrying is that as of October the 1st this year, RIDDOR, the body that helps to catalogue and classify work-related illnesses and the reporting thereof, is reclassifying ‘major injuries’:

“From 1 October 2013…‘major injuries’ to workers is being replaced with a shorter list of ‘specified injuries’.”

So let’s do the maths again. In 2011-2012, 114,000 of the work-related injuries were classified as ‘major’. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of people off work long-term and thousands of people dying every year.

Furthermore, the report states 2010’s Mesothelioma figures and the forecast:

“Deaths…increased to 2,347…and continue to rise year-on-year due to past exposure to asbestos. We are not expecting this figure to peak until around 2016.

In Summary

It’s clear that if you have an accident at work and suffer long-term work-related illness as a result, it’s becoming ever more imperative that you seek professional help from a personal injury solicitor for compensation.

The way it’s going, the only way your injury will be classed as major is if you are classed as disabled as a result. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the DWP will assess you as such.

So ask yourself: “Who is going to pick up the cost of recuperation if I don’t fight for my due compensation for work-related injuries?”