Lower earners more likely to become ill or injured at work, warns think-tank


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Lower earners are twice as likely to become physically ill or injured at work as higher earners, new research has warned, prompting a call for a more joined-up approach to injury prevention across government and business.

According to the think-tank the IPPR, 5.8% of people on the lowest incomes (or what it classified as being within the “third hourly income decile”) have been injured or become unwell through their work. This compared to just 2.1% of highest earners (or those in the “tenth income decile”).

Although overall rates of work-related illness and injury in the UK were low compared with other European countries, in total 111 people died at work in 2019/20 and a further 92 people were killed as a result of someone else’s work, the IPPR concluded

As a result, the think-tank called for a national strategy to prevent physical and psychological harm at work, starting with immediate measures to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19.

Its Better than cure report argued that the UK’s injury prevention policy was currently “piecemeal” and underfunded. The Health and Safety Executive saw funding cut by 53% between 2009/10 and 2018, it pointed out. The number of local authority health and safety visits to workplaces had dropped by 73%, while proactive visits fell by 93%.

It called for the government to take a lead in bringing organisations, unions and health and safety bodies together to coordinate a national strategy for injury prevention, overseen by a national injury prevention commissioner.

Lesley Rankin, IPPR researcher said: “Preventing workplace injuries and illnesses is a matter of fairness. It is not right that people who earn less or are from disadvantaged communities are disproportionately hurt or made unwell at work.

“A national strategy covering everywhere people work and live is needed, to coordinate efforts to reduce injury and illness and address the unequal impact on lower earners.”

IPPR senior economist Henry Parkes said cuts to the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities hamper the ability to carry out vital workplace inspections.

“The HSE is at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to make workplaces Covid secure as the lockdown eases, but it is now operating with far fewer staff than it had in 2008. This crisis has shown us just how important having strong health and safety enforcement and promotion is for our protection and wellbeing in the workplace,” he said.

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