Many victims of workplace injury and illness are going uncompensated.
New data published today [Monday 10 October] by health and safety magazine, Hazards, has revealed that the number of workplace injury and disease claims have dropped by 50% since the Conservatives came to power – despite the fact that work-related ill-health has increased.
Following Freedom of Information Act requests in 2012 and 2022, the figures obtained by Hazards show that there were 87,655 claims registered with the Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) in 2011/12, but this had fallen to 44,435 in 2021/22 – a 50 per cent drop.
Accident claims fell from 68,348 to 35,254, down by over 48 per cent. The number of claims for almost all the classic occupational diseases – including pneumoconiosis, asthma, strain injuries, deafness, dermatitis and vibration white finger – have crashed.
One stand-out is the very low and falling numbers of compensation claims for occupational cancer. HSE estimates there are 13,000 occupational cancer cases a year. In 2011/12, just 245 cases of occupational cancers other than mesothelioma were compensated. But by 2021/22 this had fallen to 139, a drop of over 43 per cent.
Claims for the asbestos cancer mesothelioma also fell, despite the total number of cases and deaths now being significantly higher than a decade ago. There were 2,471 claims in 2011/12, compared to 2,204 in 2021/22, an 11 per cent fall.
Stress, depression and anxiety claims have dropped by 45 per cent in the decade, again running counter to a rise in cases, which reached an all-time high over each of the last two years. The current 800,000 plus annual estimate by HSE is about twice the level a decade ago.
A similar pattern is observed for work-related lung disease – despite HSE’s analysis showing the number of cases has remained constant or has risen slightly over the last decade. Claims for the most serious lung conditions have dropped markedly. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and occupational asthma are both down by a third (33 per cent), bronchitis/emphysema down by 88 per cent and pneumoconiosis claims by 29 per cent.
Claims for repetitive strain injuries and upper limit disorders have both crashed, down by 49 per cent and almost 70 per cent respectively, despite rates of musculoskeletal disorders remaining at broadly the same level over the decade.
The figures, published in conjunction with Thompsons Solicitors, have exposed the impact that Conservative government policies have had on the UK compensation system.
Dan Poet, principal lawyer with trade union personal injury law firm Thompsons Solicitors, warns that fewer claims doesn’t equate to safer workplaces. He said: “Reduced claim numbers may look like a healthy trend but we know this is not matched by a reduction in workplace accidents and illnesses.
“The only conclusion is that many victims of workplace injury and illness are going uncompensated as a direct result of changing government policies.”
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show work-related ill-health hit an all-time high in 2020/21, the most recent year for which statistics are available. And the figures did not include the 387 work-related Covid-19 deaths and 31,727 non-fatal cases reported to HSE that year.
There is a simple explanation for the discrepancy, Poet says. “The legal changes all brought in by the Conservatives are effectively a form of back door deregulation.”
In the last ten years, the Conservative government has removed civil liability for breach of regulations via the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (ERRA section 69), reduced funding available to lawyers pursuing personal injury and disease claims through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), and has imposed provisions in the Criminal Justice and Court Act 2015 (CJCA section 57).
Mr Poet adds: “Lower numbers of claims for complex conditions, such as cancer, point to lawyers playing safe and being unwilling to represent claimants in such matters.
“We haven’t at Thompsons, but it’s clear that lots of lawyers have pulled out of running anything but slam dunk cases because they don’t think they will be paid. This means injured people are left with less choice and give up disheartened rather than pursue a claim.
“Facing fewer claims reduces the incentive for insurers and employers to maintain standards and encourage their joint drive for more fixed costs and any other changes that increase claimant lawyer financial vulnerability. It’s a vicious circle.”
The new prime minister Liz Truss has promised what amounts to an attack on trade unions, safety, and employment rights with the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill in the House of Commons being published on 22 September.
Mr Poet adds: “Given her contempt for the British worker and her libertarian zeal, nothing is likely to be off the agenda in a Truss administration, with even the Health and Safety at Work Act potentially under threat.”
Rory O’Neill, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) professor and editor of Hazards magazine, said: “The statistics expose a catastrophic collapse in access to justice, affecting tens of thousands of victims of workplace injuries and diseases each year.
“This is not just an issue of fairness for those who through no fault of their own have suffered often life-changing and sometimes fatal consequences of work hazards.
“The analysis of government figures reveals a shocking accountability deficit. In the last decade, both compensation settlements and health and safety enforcement have plummeted - there are now fewer than 200 workplace safety convictions each year, a quarter the level when the Conservatives took office.
“This means at least 40,000 additional employers each year are now leaving their employees hurt, diseased and sometimes dying with virtual impunity.”
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