British workers are among Europe's safest

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The Independent Online

Britain has the third lowest rate in Europe of accidents at work, despite a new survey warning that the European Union is paying £12bn because of absence at work.

The survey, which gives the costs of meeting medical bills, statutory sick pay and disability or fatality compensation claims, reveals that absences from work in the UK fell by one-fifth between 1994 and 1996.

Eurostat, the EU's statistical office in Luxembourg, estimates the "socio-economic" cost in Europe is equivalent to one working day a year per worker, or an average of 4,229 accidents per 100,000 workers, in the 15 member states.

A national breakdown shows Britain, Ireland and Sweden have the lowest rates, at 1,550, 1,494 and 1,217 accidents for 100,000 workers. Portugal has the highest with nearly 7,000. The highest risk is in the wood industry, followed by handling and storage, Eurostat said.