HSE defends its impotence in the losing battle against work’s diseases

HSE defends its impotence in the losing battle against work’s diseases

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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a legal duty to provide a medical service, making sure our bodies aren’t chockful of deadly substances or otherwise wrecked at work.

But, finds Hazards editor Rory O’Neill, its medical division is nearing extinction, the whole occupational medicine profession could follow suit and the UK’s workplace diseases crisis is continuing unchecked.

The mines are near enough finished, steelworks are moth-balled and manufacturing is mostly mechanised or elsewhere. It explains in a large part the long-term decline in workplace fatalities.

But that doesn’t mean the danger has passed. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics published in October 2015, show 2 million people in Great Britain currently have a health problem caused or made worse by work. The figures for 2014/15 show 1.2 million of these had worked in the last 12 months. Half a million had developed their condition in the preceding year. Work-related ill-health accounted for nearly six times as many working days lost (23.3 million) as workplace injuries (4.1 million).

And there is a trend. Year-on-year figures vary, but the general trend under the Conservative’s plan for HSE has been up.

HSE figures show since the Conservatives defeated Labour in 2010/11, self-reported work-related illness has increased by 7 per cent, up from 1.16m cases to 1.24m in 2014/15.  For stress and musculoskeletal disorders, which make up 80 per cent of the work-related total, long-term and new cases are up. The musculoskeletal disorders figure in 2010/11 was 515,000. By 2014/15, it was 553,000 – up 7.3 per cent. For stress, anxiety and depression, cases were up from 402,000 to 440,000, an increase of 9.4 per cent.

It is an effect confirmed for England in the latest preliminary Marmot indicators from the Department of Health-supported Institute for Health Equity, published on 27 November 2015. These note: “The positive downward trend for work-related illness seen between 2009/10 and 2011/12 for England reversed in 2013/14, when 4000 people per 100,000 (4 per cent of workers) employed reported a work-related illness, up from 3,640 in 2011/12.”

Announcing the findings, IHE director Professor Sir Michael Marmot noted: “We know poor conditions at work, such as long or insufficient hours, low pay, low control over tasks and insecure contracts can lead to increased risks of poor physical and mental ill health… our findings suggest that there is more that local employers and government can do to encourage, incentivise and enforce good quality work to support good health. Poor quality jobs will cost the health service more in the long run.”

Read more at Hazards Magazine

Filed under: 
HSE, Work related illness