More must be done to avoid “preventable” work deaths

Despite “great strides” in workplace safety more still needs to be done to avoid “preventable” deaths, the chair of the Health and Safety Executive has said.

Judith Hackitt was speaking as new figures revealed that the number of work-related fatalities increased by nine on the previous year to 142 in 2014-15.

The financial cost of work injuries and ill-health was estimated to be £14.3 billion, a slight increase on the previous 12 months. Injuries at work and days lost as a result of work-related issues both underwent a moderate decrease.

“It’s encouraging that there have been improvements in injuries and ill-health caused by work-related activities,” said Ms Hackitt.

But she cautioned: “Behind the statistics are people, their families, friends, work colleagues, directly affected by something that’s gone wrong, that is usually entirely preventable.”

Other key figures for 2014-15 showed:

  • 1.2 million people were suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their work. Of these, half a million were new conditions that started during the year
  • 0.8 million past workers were suffering from an illness which was caused or made worse by their past work
  • 2,538 people died from asbestos-related diseases in 2013 – a number virtually identical to the previous year
  • 7.3 million days were lost due to work-related ill-health or injury, slightly down on the previous year

Analysing the statistics, Ms Hackitt underscored how “nobody should lose their life or become ill simply from doing their job”.

“These figures show that, despite the great strides and improvements made over the last 40 years since Britain’s health and safety regime was established, there is still more that can be done.”

Past exposure causing present problems

Approximately 13,000 work-related lung disease and cancer deaths every year are said to be attributed to past exposure. This is mainly triggered by chemicals and dust at work. Owing to the long gestation period of most of these diseases, deaths are occurring now largely as a result of past workplace conditions.

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