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Business Day Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 13:13 GMT
Workplace illness costs NI 500m
Instances of work-related stress are expected to rise
Instances of work-related stress are expected to rise
Work-related accidents and illness are costing the Northern Ireland economy about 500m a year, according to health experts.

More than 1,000 people are absent from work every day through problems caused or made worse by their jobs.

The findings come in a consultation paper on a proposed workplace health strategy published by the Occupational Health Forum for Northern Ireland.

A Labour Force Survey estimates about 55,000 people in Northern Ireland suffer work-related ill health each year.
Jim Keyes
Jim Keyes: "Workplace health is the dominant problem in terms of health and safety"

Most illnesses are due to musculoskeletal disorder (largely backpain) and stress.

Health experts expect the instances of stress will increase significantly as the nature of work increases and stigmas associated with illness diminish.

The consultation paper also found there were between 90 and 100 deaths a year related to exposure to asbestos in the past.

Farming industry

The chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive (HESNI), Jim Keyes, said it would be gathering comments on the paper over the next two months.

"Work-related illness is a problem which has been identified globally," he said.

"Workplace health is the dominant problem in terms of health and safety.


One of the things we are trying to do is create a road map for the future

Jim Keyes
HSENI chief executive

"There is a sectoral aspect to it. Backpain is a prevalent problem in the health service, with nursing staff and auxiliary staff lifting people. You also see back problems in the farming industry, with people moving things, sometimes improperly."

Mr Keyes said there was an increase in work-related injuries through attacks in hospitals, on the emergency services and on bus drivers.

"This is a very complex issue and there are lots factors which affect it, including social and economic factors which many people face."

The paper also found that:

  • An estimated 350 million working days are lost annually in the EU
  • Northern Ireland's bill for work-related ill health alone could be as much as 330m a year
  • Almost 365,000 working days are lost annually as a result of ill health through work in NI
  • Backpain and work-related stress account for more than 70% of all work-related illnesses in NI
  • A holistic, innovative and practical strategy based on partnership is needed
  • Compliance with health and safety legislation would be best achieved if organisations met their duties voluntarily

The paper said difficulties faced by the farming community caused by excessive work-related stress were very real.

'Drafting a strategy'

Mr Keyes said while the findings were originally intended to go before the Northern Ireland Executive, the suspension of devolution would not stall the progress of the report.

"One of the things we are trying to do is create a road map for the future. There is a lot of good which has been carried out, but the co-ordination is sometimes missing.

"We want to improve health promotion and raise awareness.

"This strategy is not on hold because of the suspension of devolution. We have gone to public consultation this week and will be consulting over the next two months before drafting a strategy and looking for implementation from the current administration under Minister Ian Pearson."

See also:

16 May 01 | N Ireland
23 Oct 02 | N Ireland
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