The most recent accident figures available reveal that in 2013/14, 136 people lost their lives at work. In addition, 1.2 million people suffered a work-related illness, and 629,000 people suffered an injury at work, including almost 78,000 whose injuries were deemed serious enough to be reported under the RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) system.
Accidents at Work
Manual handling incidents, slips, trips, and falls from height account for the vast majority of workplace injuries.
The most common cause of fatal work accidents are: falls from height, contact with moving machinery or being struck by vehicles. The construction, agriculture and waste and recycling industries saw the highest rates of fatal accidents.
The provisional figure for the number of people who were fatally injured at work in 2014/15 is 142. This is 9% lower than the average figure for the last five years which is 156.
27 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to work-related injury and illness.
Types of Work-Related Illness
According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) around 1.1 million cases of ill health are caused or exacerbated by work, and more than 22 million working days are lost due to work-related illness every year in the UK.
Common health conditions that are either caused or exacerbated by work can include work-related stress, skin diseases, asthma and musculoskeletal disorders. So-called ‘long latency’ conditions that are caused by previous work activity where symptoms may not appear for several years, include, vibration-related diseases, respiratory diseases, work-related hearing loss, asbestos-related diseases, and cancers.
High rates of work-related stress commonly occur amongst middle aged workers aged 45-54 in large organisations with more than 250 employees. Work-related stress is particularly prevalent amongst health and social care professionals, nurses and teachers.
Together with musculoskeletal disorders, stress, depression and anxiety account for around 80% of new work-related conditions and 10.4 and 7.5 million working days lost respectively.
Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect muscles, joints and tendons and commonly develop over time.
Manual handling is the most common work activity blamed on MSDs involving back injuries. The majority of MSDs affect the back and upper arms.
High rates are found in workers aged 45 and over in the building and construction industries as well as in the postal, healthcare and agriculture industries.
MSDs are responsible for more than 8 million working days lost every year in the UK.
Every year around 8,000 people die as a result of occupational cancer and an estimated 13,500 new cases are recorded, of which more than 5,500 come from the construction industry.
Three times more men than women die of occupational cancer and most new cases involve lung, breast and skin cancer.
The most common cause of death is lung cancer and occupational exposure to asbestos. Around 13,000 deaths each year from occupational lung disease and cancer are believed to have been caused by previous exposure to chemicals and dust at work.
In 2013, 2,358 people died of mesothelioma as a direct consequence of their past exposure to asbestos. Around 5,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases every year. Deaths from mesothelioma continue to rise and are expected to peak towards the end of this decade.
Work-Related Respiratory Disease
An estimated 30,000 people who worked in the last year report that they have developed problems with their breathing that were either caused or exacerbated by their work.
Work-related respiratory diseases include asthma, pneumoconiosis, silicosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is the term given for a number of lung diseases that include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease.
Around 4,000 people die every year from COPD mainly due to their previous exposure to dust, chemicals and fumes at work. Typical symptoms of COPD include breathlessness, a persistent cough with phlegm, and frequent chest infections.
Work-Related Skin Disease
The most common form of work-related skin disease is ‘contact dermatitis’ which is caused by allergens or irritants found mainly in soaps and cleaning products.
The severity of work-related skin disease can vary widely from minor irritation to extreme cases of dermatitis. In 2013, more than 950 people with occupational dermatitis sought treatment by dermatologists. Chefs, florists, beauticians and hairdressers have the highest rates of dermatitis.
Work-Related or Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
Exposure to excessive noise at work can cause irreversible hearing damage which can be very difficult to detect as it usually develops gradually over time.
Work-related hearing loss mainly affects men. Out of the 2,320 new claims over the last 11 years, only 20 affected women.
The highest rates of NIHL occur in the manufacturing, energy and construction industries. The number of claims has declined over the last 10 years.
Hand-Arm Vibration Disorders (HAVs)
HAVs or ‘vibration white finger’ is an industrial disease caused by the continued use of vibrating hand-held power tools such as pneumatic drills.
Although HAVs is preventable, once damage occurs, it is permanent. HAVs can cause painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints as well as finger blanching attacks in cold weather.
Like NIHL, the number of new cases has declined over the last decade and HAVs mainly affects men. Foundry and construction workers are most at risk.
In 2013/14, 674 cases were prosecuted for health and safety failings across the UK. These include cases where multiple offences were committed.
Of these cases, 636 convictions were made for at least one offence, leading to a total of £18m in fines received.
Of the 674 prosecutions, the HSE prosecuted 551 cases in England and Wales, securing 517 convictions, and local authorities prosecuted 88 cases in England and Wales, securing 85 convictions. In Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal heard 35 cases whereupon 34 convictions were secured.
Matthew Tomlinson is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer specialising in work accident compensation claims for Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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