Page last updated at 07:42 GMT, Tuesday, 28 April 2009 08:42 UK

Business failure over work safety

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The report said work-related ill-health cost the economy 300bn a year

A failure by business to take financial responsibility for work-related ill health is contributing to unsafe workplaces, according to a new report.

Prof Rory O'Neill from Stirling University said the true annual cost of occupational disease and injury in the UK could be in excess of £30bn.

He is calling for rigorous enforcement of Health and Safety laws and punitive penalties for firms flouting the law.

The study is released to coincide with International Workers' Memorial Day.

In his report "Who Pays? You Do", Prof O'Neill said there was a culture of "cost shifting" in the UK which meant business only paid 25% of the costs of occupational ill-health and injuries.

The reason 1,000 people in Britain die in work-related fatalities each year and tens of thousands die of occupational diseases, is not because businesses pay too much, but because they pay too little
Prof Rory O'Neill
Stirling University

The study is also highly critical of the British Chambers of Commerce which attacked Health and Safety regulation in its 2009 Burdens Barometer, published last month.

Prof O'Neill, from the university's occupational and environmental health research group, said: "The business lobby bleats continually about the 'burden' of health and safety regulation, but the burden of lax workplace safety standards is carried almost entirely by sick and injured workers, bereaved families and the public purse.

"The British Chambers of Commerce objects to the cost of these crucial health and safety laws, which it says cost business £2.2bn a year.

"But BCC's calculation is undermined by a critical omission - the cash and human benefits of properly regulated workplace health and safety."

'Too little'

Glasgow Chamber of Commerce president Claire Dunning said: "While workplace safety is very important and we encourage safe practice at all times, legislation must be simple and cost effective - recognising the need for businesses to stay competitive, especially in the current climate."

According to the report, fatal occupational injury costs society over £1.5m, while an occupational cancer costs more than £2.5m.

The annual cost of workplace fatalities and work-related road traffic deaths alone exceeds £1bn, Prof O'Neill said.

He is calling for a revamped employer-financed compensation system that recognises the costs of suffering an occupational injury, disease or related bereavement.

The report also suggests that the NHS recovers the full costs of treating work-related ill-health from business.

Prof O'Neill added: "The reason 1,000 people in Britain die in work-related fatalities each year and tens of thousands die of occupational diseases, is not because businesses pay too much, but because they pay too little."

The study is published in the May 2009 issue of the occupational health and safety journal Hazards.



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