Hazards/University of Stirling, 28 April 2009

Society pays for companiesí deadly behaviour

Deadly conditions are persisting in Britain’s workplaces because firms only pay a small fraction of the costs of occupational injuries and diseases, a new report has concluded.

‘Who pays? You do’, by Stirling University’s Professor Rory O’Neill, concludes that thousands of lives each year could be saved if businesses were prevented from ‘cost shifting’ onto individuals and society the real bill for work-related ill-health.

Professor O’Neill, of the university’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, says: “The business lobby bleats continually about the ‘burden’ of health and safety regulation, but the burden of lax workplace safety standards is carried almost entirely by sick and injured workers, bereaved families and the public purse.

“Our research shows at best 25 per cent of the cost of occupational ill-health and injuries is borne by business, yet businesses create 100 per cent of the risks that caused the problem.”

The report, published on International Workers’ Memorial Day – 28 April - is highly critical of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). BCC’s ‘2009 Burdens Barometer’, published last month, targets 10 workplace safety regulations covering working time, chemicals, asbestos, explosives, biocides, work at height, vibration and noise, as well as occupational exposure limits and the corporate manslaughter act.

“The British Chambers of Commerce objects to the cost of these crucial health and safety laws, which it says cost business £2.2bn a year. But BCC’s calculation is undermined by a critical omission - the cash and human benefits of properly regulated workplace health and safety,” says Professor O’Neill.

“With a fatal occupational injury costing society over £1.5m and an occupational cancer over £2.5m, the supposed cost to business is by comparison small change.”

The annual cost of workplace fatalities and work-related road traffic deaths alone exceeds £1bn, says O’Neill, adding the occupational disease bill is many times higher. The total bill for industry’s occupational health and safety failings could be well in excess of £30bn each year.

“The reason 1,000 people in Britain die in work-related fatalities each year and tens of thousands die of occupational diseases, is not because businesses pay too much, but because they pay too little,” he says. “’Cost shifting’ of the bill for occupational injuries and diseases means business creates the problem and individuals and the public purse pick up the tab.”

Professor O’Neill is calling for more rigorous enforcement of existing health and safety laws, with punitive penalties on companies guilty of egregious health and safety breaches. He also says there is a need for a revamped employer-financed compensation system that recognises the real costs of occupational injury, disease and related bereavements. The NHS should also recover from employers the full costs for the treatment of occupational caused diseases and disabilities.

“While firms evade the true costs of the harm for which they are responsible, deadly conditions will persist in Britain’s workplaces,” he says.

Notes to editors

1. Who pays? You do, by Professor Rory O’Neill, is published in the May 2009 issue of the occupational health and safety journal Hazards. It can be accessed online at: http://www.hazards.org/deadlybusiness/whopays.htm

2. The report is accompanied by cases histories on the human cost of work-related bereavements. Work deaths harm whole families can be accessed online at:


Notes to editors

• Professor Rory O’Neill
Editor, Hazards magazine www.hazards.org
Professor, Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, University of Stirling, Scotland
Health, safety and environment officer, International Federation of Journalists
Telephone: 01535 210462 (27 April) and 07813 779501 (28 April).
Email: editor@hazards.org

• Relatives bereaved by occupational fatalities and featured in the report can be contacted via Hilda Palmer on 0161 636 7557 (27 April) and on 07929 800240 (28 April).





Workers' Memorial Day pages