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Employers Need to Focus on Dangers of Industrial Disease

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is calling on public, private and voluntary sector organisations to tackle occupational disease by encouraging the promotion and exchange of ideas and the generation of novel initiatives through their occupational disease community site.

There are many different types of occupational disease (industrial disease) including respiratory diseases e.g. asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, skin diseases, asbestos-related disease, cancers, noise induced hearing damage, hand-arm vibration syndrome, musculoskeletal disease, and stress.

However, given the range of diseases and broad scope of industries involved, the HSE is focusing on work that is aimed at tackling respiratory diseases and occupational cancers because there are potentially many workers likely to be exposed to such illness related risks, and/or there is evidence of a high incidence rate of disease.  

In 2011/12 there were an estimated 1.1 million working people suffering from a work-related illness, with around 450,000 new cases of occupation-related ill health and a further estimated 12,000 deaths each year caused by past exposures to harmful substances at work.  

Traditionally, health issues in the workplace have been, and still are, harder to address than safety issues because cause and effect are often not clearly linked. For example, many serious occupational diseases (such as those related to asbestos) have a long period of latency, some up to 30 years, between exposure and development of ill health and/or disease, making the links difficult to establish.

However, where the link is established and exposure can be measured, interventions and controls aimed at raising awareness and creating behavioural change can work to reduce exposures and prevent ill health and disease. That said, there may still be a long delay before a reduction in the causes of ill health and death are seen.

Employers and individuals within them can join the HSE online community to take action on occupational disease.

The Community is open to anyone who has an interest in reducing the incidence of occupational disease and would like to promote their work or seek ideas, learn from others, and discover new approaches to tackling occupational disease.

Tracey Graham is a Personal Injury Solicitor specialising in Industrial Disease claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

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