More than 20,000 people in the UK die prematurely due to their work every year, the TUC has estimated.
Its report, “The case for health and safety”, has calculated that every year the equivalent of the entire population of the Orkney Islands die early as a result of their work, through conditions such as occupational cancers and lung disorders, exposure to fumes and chemicals, and fatal traffic accidents.
The official accident rate, it suggested, is much lower than the reality because so many accidents are not reported.
It has also argued that 1.2 million working people in the UK believe they are suffering from a work-related illness, including heart disease, stress, musculoskeletal disorders and mental health issues.
While the number of actual workplace fatalities, as measured by the Health and Safety Executive is falling and modern workplaces are generally safer than in the past, they do still present dangers, hazards and the risk of illness, it argued.
As a result, the TUC is calling on the Government to ignore calls from the business lobby to reduce regulation and enforcement, appoint a government health and safety tsar, and use the UK’s 150,000 trained union health and safety reps to even greater effect.
Finally, it has urged ministers to be more vocal in supporting the work of the HSE and local authorities in protecting people at work.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Despite the way that health and safety is often pilloried, for those who are made ill or injured at work and for the relatives of those who have died as a result of their work, health and safety is no joke.
“Regulation works, as long as it is enforced, and it saves lives and prevents the contraction of unnecessary illnesses,” he added.