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Workplace compensation scheme an 'unholy mess', claims study

Scheme covers only a tiny proportion of those made ill by their work, Stirling University found.

Cancer awareness
Stephen Dickter

The UK government's workplace compensation scheme covers only a tiny proportion of those made ill by their work and needs urgent reform, a new study has warned.

A report by health researchers at Stirling University describes the scheme as an "unholy mess", which fails to recognise or compensate thousands of cases of occupational cancers and other fatal diseases.

Among them are breast cancer linked to shift work and lung cancer related to welding and diesel exhaust.

The study questions why these conditions are not on the list of industrial diseases for which state compensation, known as the industrial injuries disablement benefit (IIDB), is payable.

This is despite their inclusion in official cancer prevention priority rankings produced by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in 2012, the report said.

Professor Andrew Watterson, from the university's occupational and environmental health research group, said: "The UK Government's workplace compensation scheme requires urgent reform.

"It is an unholy mess with only a tiny proportion of those made sick by their work in with a sniff of any compensation.

"The industrial injuries disablement benefit scheme excludes many conditions and those that are covered tend to be subject to claim-barring disability thresholds, minimum exposure times and job restrictions."

HSE data indicates that there are almost 13,600 new cases of occupational cancer each year, the study said, yet in 2012 IIDB was paid in just 2600 cases.

If asbestos-related cancers are not included, just 90 payouts were made.

The report is critical of the role played by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), which recommends which conditions should be added to the prescribed disease list.

Report co-author Professor Rory O'Neill said: "The IIAC approach hovers between incompetent and wrong.

"It imposes an arbitrary 'relative risk' prescription test, requiring the condition to be twice as common in the affected group than in the general population. Even uncontentious causes of occupational cancer won't surmount this.

"The government-prescribed disease scheme might just be capable of spotting a catastrophe but does nothing to recognise, compensate or avert tens of thousands of personal, preventable and frequently fatal human tragedies."

The full report is published in the online magazine Hazards.

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