A new research initiative by the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research has revealed that lower earning workers are at least twice as likely to be injured or become sick at work than their higher earning counterparts.
Across the UK, more than one million people fall ill or are injured on the job each year, with initial figures suggesting the costs could be as high as £15 billion per year. The research also made a point that the rate of illnesses at work could increase significantly as Britain relaxes its COVID-19 restrictions.
The Institute is calling for the Johnson government to include injury prevention in broad public health priorities, alongside improved actions to prevent COVID-19 transmission in the workplace.
Lesley Rankin, IPPR researcher and co-author of the report, explained that: “Preventing workplace injuries and illnesses is a matter of fairness. It is not right that people who earn less or are from disadvantaged communities are disproportionately hurt or made unwell at work.
“Injuries are a massive cost and burden to people, business and society. But injuries are not inevitable, and prevention is better than cure. Injuries can be prevented with the right safety measures and public information.
“A national strategy covering everywhere people work and live is needed, to coordinate efforts to reduce injury and illness and address the unequal impact on lower earners.”
The research argues that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – the UK workplace safety regulator – has had a funding reduction of more than 50% in the last decade, while staffing levels, including workplace inspectors, has fallen by a third. Visits to workplaces would appear to support those numbers, with local visits to workplaces in England, Scotland and Wals falling by 73%, and proactive worksite visits fell by 93%.
IPPR is urging the government to approach workplace health and safety in a coordinated manner, that would bring together health and safety bodies, unions and business representatives. In addition, it is seeking the government take active steps to better reduce the risks of injury and illness in the workplace, including long-term safe staff levels in high-risk environments, as well as the ability for a commission to open legal proceedings against the secretary of state if staff numbers fall below acceptable levels.
It is also seeking increased funding for the HSE and relevant local safety authorities to improve the safety of workplaces.
IPPR senior economist and co-author, Henry Parkes, said: “You often hear people talk about ‘health and safety gone mad’ — but what we’ve seen over the last 10 years is health and safety gone bad. Cuts to the Health and Safety Executive and Local Authorities will hamper our ability to carry out vital workplace inspections.
“The HSE is at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to make workplaces COVID secure as the lockdown eases, but it is now operating with far fewer staff than it had in 2008. This crisis has shown us just how important having strong health and safety enforcement and promotion is for our protection and wellbeing in the workplace.”