HSE occupational disease decision welcomed by hygiene body

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According to the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), excusing firms of the need to report occupational diseases "would have sent an incorrect message to industry".

The comment came in the wake of the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) ruling that firms must continue reporting conditions related to occupational cancers and biological agents.

Steve Perkins, chief executive of BOHS, said such conditions, along with 6 short-latency diseases – dermatitis, hand-arm vibration syndrome, severe arm cramps, carpal tunnel syndrome, occupational asthma and tendonitis – account for all but 10% of RIDDOR reports to the HSE.

"It is important these are retained under RIDDOR reporting requirements," Mr Perkins said.

The RIDDOR reforms (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases & Dangerous Occurrence Regulations 1995), among whose provisions was removal of the requirement to report occupational disease, were first mooted in a regulatory review by the HSE.

The HSE revised its stance following public consultation between August and November 2012.

Responding to the consultation, 3 main reasons why reporting occupational diseases should remain key to RIDDOR were set out by BOHS. One of these was the concern that surveillance data vital to epidemiological research would fall away.

According to BOHS, present data shows that half-a-million instances of 'new' occupational diseases happen annually, costing the UK some £8.2bn. Mr Perkins added that without RIDDOR disease data, even with its limitations, working towards the safer working environments deserved by all employees is harder.

"As industry changes, so does the incidence of disease and HSE would have had no data to see this happening," the BOHS report said. "Most disease has a long latency which slows down the intervention and control process. Removing the requirement to report disease would have slowed the process even more."

BOHS noted that some occupational diseases, such as dermatitis, are long in latency. Yet even when a condition's latency is lengthy, reporting just 1 instance in a working environment can demonstrate that other employees are prone to the same complaint. "Interventions at this stage can still prevent future cases."

BOHS is also keen to ensure that messages received by businesses are the right ones. "The removal of the requirement to report diseases would have sent an incorrect message to industry about how HSE perceives its importance," Steve Perkins said.

Mr Perkins added that industry would be still less enthusiastic about health surveillance if occupational diseases could remain unreported.

Emma Costin, Head of Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar comments "it is vital that we retain the requirement that employers report incidences of industrial disease via the tried and tested RIDDOR mechanism. This is not red tape for the sake of it. We require data and responsible employers require data in order to ensure that disease that is or may be causally linked to working practices is identified and so as to ensure that those practices are altered so as to be safer for future workers. In a civilised society decisions about what is and what is not a safe working practice should be based on data and not anecdote. I completely agree that it sends the wrong message to employers when a government calls for reporting mechanisms to be scrapped in the name of removing red tape".


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