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The crippling legacy left by going to work.

OVER half a million people in the UK suffer from stress or a stress-related condition. Yet that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to health problems at work.

Because a staggering 2.5 million workers believe they suffer health problems related to, or made worse by, their own jobs.

They can develop anything from chronic asthma or a hearing problem to heart disease and stroke. Today the Sunday Mercury asks: Just how safe is your work place?

S TAFF from the Health and Safety Advice Centre in Birmingham see more pain than most.

They deal with the legacy of poor working conditions - ill health, stress, trauma and anxiety.

They see once-healthy men and women reduced to shadows of their former selves as they battle against a variety of crippling medical conditions which could have been avoided.

National statistics from the Health and Safety Executive make grim reading.

In 1995, the latest figures available, an estimated 2.5 million people in the UK suffered from an illness they believe was caused or made worse by their work. One fifth of these reported they were suffering from more than one condition.

Almost 60 per cent of illnesses reported to the organisation were musculo-skeletal - pain and discomfort in the limbs.

Staff at the Birmingham centre already know the problems are widespread. They received a bumper 1,817 inquiries between April 1996 and March 1997. Of those, 70 per cent were from employees.

Their calls related mostly to:

Accidents at work

Noise and hearing problems

Asthma

Repetitive Strain Injury

Vibration injuries.

Kathy Gaffney, centre advice worker, said: "We get a lot of calls from people wanting to know how to report accidents. Many people want to know if they are liable for compensation and what they can do to stop it happening to someone else.

"We deal with all sorts of things, from accidents, long-term health problems to deaths. We've even set up a workers' relatives support group in the area.

"We see work-related stress and associated health problems caused by the so-called '24-hour society' which forces increasing numbers of employees to work excessive hours. Many have to work shifts meant for robots, not humans.

"As a result we see people with multiple problems. I once saw a man hobble in here and it turned out he'd come for a hearing test. Yet at the same time he'd had an accident at work and suffered a rare form of dermatitis of the ears.

"We deal with people with some very disabling conditions, such as those suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. It can be very traumatic."

You only have to watch Brookside's Ron Dixon struggle with his multiple heart attacks to realise the dangers stress can cause.

Kathy stressed: "Your job shouldn't be able to damage your health. Everyone has the right to a safe working environment. We are here to give advice on workers' health rights because unfortunately not all employers take the same tack."

DO employers take their workers for granted? Should they treat people like robots - or real people? Write to Talkabout, Sunday Mercury, 28 Colmore Circus, Birmingham B 4 6AZ.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 8, 1998
Words:522
Previous Article:Factory job that left me suffering.
Next Article:SNAPSHOT: Pension rights for illness caused by work.


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