Stress, RSI and back strains are top three health hazards in UK workplace

Stress, repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and back strains are the top three health hazards facing UK workers, and the problems are getting worse.

According to a report published today by the TUC, employers are still failing to protect their staff from ill health or serious injury.

In the 2002 biennial TUC union safety reps survey, the top three workplace hazards were stress, cited by more than half of the reps (56 per cent), RSI, cited by almost one in four (37 per cent) and back strain, reported by 31 per cent.

Two years on, the 2004 survey shows that the incidence of stress is up 2 per cent (58 per cent), and RSI and back strain are up by 3 per cent and 4 per cent respectively to 40 and 35 per cent.

The latest survey – Focus on union safety reps – also reports that problems caused by slips and trips has moved into the workplace hazards top five, up from seventh place in 2002.

All employers are legally required to carry out regular risk assessments to try to limit workplace illness and accidents. While more than half (53 per cent) the UK’s employers are carrying out adequate risk assessments, only just over four in 10 of the safety reps (44 per cent) questioned were involved. Almost one in 10 reps (8 per cent) said that their employer had never carried out a risk assessment.

The private sector (57 per cent) is better at carrying out risk assessments than the public sector (51 per cent), with employers in the energy and banking sectors having the best records. Local government (42 per cent) and education (43 per cent) are the worst, with London seeing the fewest number of risk assessments in the UK.

Other safety concerns raised by the union reps were display screen equipment (cited by 32 per cent), working alone (27 per cent), long hours (25 per cent), violence (22 per cent) and chemicals and solvents (21 per cent).

Although safety reps are legally entitled to time off to attend safety training courses to help them carry out their duties effectively, almost a third (30 per cent) of reps unable to attend courses said that it was because they were too busy, and almost four in 10 (38 per cent) said that it was because their managers had refused them the time off to attend.

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