Less than 1 in 6 UK workers have access to adequate occupational health services, according to an expert.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, occupational physician Anne Raynal says this is leaving too many workers without protection from job-related diseases.
She says the country has to deal with around half a million new work-related illnesses each and every year. In addition, she adds, more than 13,000 people a year die due to occupational exposures, most of them from asbestos-related cancers or respiratory diseases caused by chemicals or dust.
‘Too few cases reported to HSE’
Raynal points out that Britain is Europe’s only major country that doesn’t have a legal requirement for workers to be provided with occupational health services, something she says would uncover many of the illnesses sooner.
Of the new work-related illnesses experienced by workers each year, just 0.3% get reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), she adds.
Raynal says the last 5 years has not seen a single prosecution brought by the HSE against employers for failing to report occupational diseases or related deaths.
There has also been a total absence, she adds, of prosecutions against employers for failing to provide statutory medical surveillance of workers who are exposed to asbestos.
‘Most doctors paid by employers’
Her BMJ piece says HSE-appointed doctors provide some 40,000 workers in risky jobs with statutory medical surveillance in order to detect work-related illnesses early. But that, she adds, represents just 0.13% of the nation’s working population.
Raynal fears that because employers’ duty not to harm their workers’ health is not enforced rigorously enough, occupational medicine is not likely to survive as a speciality in the future.
Most doctors working in the field, the expert adds, are paid by employers and have no legal protection for carrying out their ethical duty. Some, she claims, have been actively put off identifying workers with job-related illnesses.
Raynal adds that the number of trainees in the field is now only a third of what is needed for occupational medicine to be maintained as a speciality.
Source: British Medical Journal
Date Published: November 13, 2015
Author: Jonathan Brown