Hazards Campaign says HSE statistics drastically misrepresent cost of work

H&S statistics for 20-07/08 published yesterday by the HSE claimed they ‘reveal a reduction in number of people killed, injured or made ill by work during 2007/08’ and claim ‘229 people were killed by work.’ 1

The Hazards Campaign challenges these figures claiming they drastically undercount the numbers killed in work-related incidents, do not include those killed by occupational illness, and grossly underestimate the numbers suffering from work-related ill-health 2

Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer said:

“This annual misrepresentation of the numbers killed by work could be called the ‘HSE myth of the year ‘. It contributes to the undermining of worker and public safety and the case for policies and resources to be allocated to tackling what is a massive cause of public ill-health, and masks the huge number of personal tragedies occurring every day. It also allows encourages a false sense of security by underestimating the real risk faced by workers and members of the public, and feeds into the nonsensical ‘elf and safety gorn mad’ media hype, and demands from business for deregulation, light touch regulation and cuts in the enforcement burden.

“As we head for global economic meltdown largely due to an uncritical acceptance that financial business could be trusted to do the right thing, we can see that deregulation and light touch regulation has brought us to the brink of disaster. We urgently need to learn those lessons from the financial sector and look far more critically at what’s really going on in our workplaces where more workers are being killed, injured and made ill, than the HSE headline figures suggest and we need more health and safety law and enforcement rather than less.”

The headline fatality figure quoted in HSE press release ‘229 people were killed at work’ fails to make clear that this refers only the workers killed in workplace incidents whose deaths were reportable to the HSE or local authorities, not those reportable to other enforcement authorities such as the police, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency or the Civil Aviation Authority.

The HSE 229 fatalities do not include:

  • the estimated 1,000 who are killed in road traffic incidents involving ‘at work’ vehicles 3
  • the 95 members of the public killed by work activities 1
  • an estimated 30 killed in coastal waters or in aircraft incidents
  • the 100-250 suicides attributed to work-related stress 4
The Hazards Campaign estimates the total number of people killed in work-related incidents last year as about 1,454 -1,606 which is 6-7 times the HSE headline figure, and more than the number of murders each year (5)!

But the iceberg of work-related ill-health is as always, the number dying each year due to occupational illnesses which the Hazards Campaign estimate as up to 50,000.

The HSE statistics state that ‘every year thousands of people die from work-related diseases’ and itemise these as work-related cancer deaths in excess of 6,000, of which about 4,000 are due to asbestos cancers, plus 111 deaths from asbestosis, 182 from pneumoconiosis, and around 15% of COPD that may be work-related, which is about 4,000 deaths. Adding this up gives an HSE estimate of deaths due to work-related diseases each year of 10,293. 6

The Hazards Campaign estimates that each year:

12% of all cancer deaths are work-related which suggests 18,000 deaths, compared to the HSE’s 6,000;
15-20% of obstructive lung disease deaths are work related, which is about 6,000 deaths;
20% of heart disease deaths are work-related, which is about 20,000;
plus 6,000 for deaths from all other work-related causes including restrictive respiratory diseases.

Which gives a possible estimate of up to 50,000 dying from occupational disease each year. 7

For more information contact Hilda Palmer 0161 636 7557

Notes to Editors

1. Health and Safety statistics 2007/08 http://wwww.hse.gov.uk/statistics/hssoct08.htm
2. Burying the evidence Hazards 92 Oct/Dec 2005 and www.hazards.org.uk/cancer;
Environmental and occupational causes of cancer: A review of recent scientific literature, Richard Clapp et al UMASS Lowell September 2005, www.sustainableproduction.org
3. RoSPA Occupational Safety, http://www.rospa.com/occupationalsafety/index.htm
4. Crying Shame? Hazards 101 Jan/March 2007 and www.hazards.org.uk/suicide
5. A crisis of enforcement: the decriminalisation of death and injury at work by Prof Steve Tombs and Dr David Whyte, Centre for Criminal Justice Briefing 6 June 2008
6. Health and Safety statistics 2007/08 page 8 http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/hssoct08.htm
7. A Job to Die for? Hazards 92 Oct/Dec 2005

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