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Illness and accidents 'cost pounds 16bn a year'

UP TO pounds 16bn is lost to the British economy a year through accidents and ill health at work, according to the most authoritative study yet undertaken.

The figure was published by the Health and Safety Commission yesterday, at a time when the Government is proposing to deregulate the law.

The loss to industry is calculated by the commission at pounds 360 a year for every worker.

About 1.6 million accidents occured in the workplace during 1989-90 leading to the loss of 1.8 million working days, and as a result 5,000 people were forced to give up work completely, the commission's study estimated.

More than 2.2 million people suffered from ill-health which was wholly or partly caused by work and 750,000 of them took time off as a result, leading to the loss of 11.5 million working days. Work-related illness forced 70,500 people to stop work permanently.

The Deregulation Bill received its second reading on Tuesday. Asked why ministers are pressing ahead with the plans at a time when the commission has not completed its own review, Frank Davies, the new commission chairman, said that both the Government and his organisation were determined there should be no lowering of standards.

However, Mr Davies indicated his approval of a watering down in ministers' original strategy. The Government's scheme might have undermined standards he said, 'but it hasn't'.

He said the commission's function was to monitor the efficacy of the law and that it was not 'tied to any sacred cows'.

Unions disagreed. John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, said the commission's own inquiry made it clear that deregulation would increase costs to the economy.

Mr Monks said that 7 in 10 accidents happened because managers failed to take safety precautions. He pointed out that the Government was reducing its contribution to the commission and its executive arm by pounds 5m this year and pounds 10m in 1995.

The IPMS specialists' union said that the reductions meant there would be fewer safety inspectors.

Nigel Bryson, safety officer of the GMB general union, said there was no evidence of any unecessary burden on business: 'The deregulation Bill is a licence to kill.'

The report followed a detailed study of accidents and illnesses at a construction site, a creamery, a transport haulage company, a North Sea oil production platform and an NHS hospital.

It showed that the construction firm lost pounds 700,000 a year through accidents and ill health, the creamery almost pounds 1m, the transport company pounds 196,000, the hospital pounds 400,000 and the oil production platform pounds 3.7m. The report said the cost to employers included compensation to injured workers, replacing staff involved in an accident and repairing damaged equipment.

The HSE believes that as much as 70 per cent of the cost of accidents and ill health could be prevented.

Speaking to local authority managers, Michael Forsyth, employment minister, yesterday said there was a need to make the law more effective.

The Costs to the British economy of work accidents and work-related ill-health; HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6FS; pounds 13.