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Work-Related Illness Declines, Injuries Increase, in UK

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released statistics Nov. 18 that show an increase in the number of reported workplace injuries, which could reflect improved reporting, and a decline in new cases of work-related illnesses.

The most significant improvements have occurred in areas where health and safety inspections, enforcement, guidance and partnerships have been the most active. The number of prosecutions by the agency was up by 6 percent over the previous year.

"I believe that sensible health and safety is a cornerstone of a civilized society and, therefore, we must continue to attack these unacceptably high levels of occupational injuries and ill health," said Health and Safety Commission Chair Bill Callaghan.

He noted the messages the 2003-04 statistics present are mixed. "On the one hand, we still cannot point to clear evidence of progress against our Revitalizing Health and Safety targets. On the other hand there are welcome signs on ill health: a downturn in musculoskeletal disorders and a leveling off in the earlier rise in work-related stress. But since ill health accounts for around three-quarters of working days lost, there is still a lot of work to do."

There were 235 fatal injuries to workers in 2003-04, an increase of 4 percent over the 2002-03 number of 227. Approximately half of the injuries occurred in two industries: construction, and agriculture, forestry and fishing.

The number of reported major injuries to employees fractures (except to fingers, thumbs or toes), amputations, dislocations (of shoulder, hip, knee, spine) and other injuries leading to resuscitation or admittance to the hospital was 30,666 in 2003-04, up 9 percent from the previous year, with increases in injuries in many service industries, notably public administration. Over one-third of all reported major injuries were caused by trips and falls.

The number of reported over-3-day injuries to employees increased by 0.7 percent in 2003-04 to 129,143, of which two-fifths were caused by handling, lifting and carrying.

In 2003-04, an estimated 2.2 million people suffered from illnesses they thought were work-related, similar to the level in 2001/02 (2.3 million). Around three-quarters of the cases of work-related illness were musculoskeletal disorders (such as back pain) or stress. New cases of musculoskeletal disorders were lower in 2003-04 than in 2001-02.

"There are some very welcome indications that our various initiatives are beginning to bear fruit. In particular, I'm pleased to see reductions in the rate of major injury in the production industries, especially construction, the extractive industries and manufacturing. These are all industries that we have targeted and have worked to get the right mix of interventions inspection, investigation and enforcement on the one hand, and information, advice and education on the other," said Justin McCracken, deputy director general of HSE.

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