Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

ABC of Work Related Disorders: LEGAL ASPECTS

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 02 November 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1136
  1. Martyn J F Davidson

    People do not expect their work to damage their health. Employers have a legal and a moral duty to safeguard the health of their employees. The legal framework defining this duty was established in the 19th century. Though prompted by humanitarian concerns, these legal developments were the pragmatic result of the concerns of industry—the supply of healthy workers required to increase productivity was threatened by the toll of premature death and disability. Duties on employers to safeguard the health and safety of their workforce have gradually developed from both statute and common law.

    Reporting of occupational disease


    Current levels of work related illness are difficult to ascertain accurately. Employers are required by statute to report cases of occupational disease under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)—recently updated with effect from 1 April 1996, with modest changes from the 1985 original. The list of reportable diseases has now been brought into line with the list of prescribed diseases. Previously, only 28 conditions were listed, with many important omissions such as occupational dermatitis. An employer needs to report a case of occupational illness only after being notified of the diagnosis by a doctor.

    Data for RIDDOR are underreported for several reasons. Employers have no incentive to report, since to do so will often trigger a visit from the enforcement authority. Neither the patient nor the treating doctor may realise that a condition is work related, and they may be unaware of the need to inform the employer of the diagnosis.

    The Health and Safety Commission, which collates and publishes these figures annually, commissioned a labour force survey in 1990. This survey estimated that only a third of reportable illness is actually reported and that 2.2 million cases of work related illness had occurred in the preceding year. A further survey is …

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