The TUC report, The Case for Health and Safety, challenges the myth that Britain is one of the safest places to work and demonstrates that health and safety at work is as relevant today as it has ever been.
TUC analysis of the most conservative official safety figures shows that at least 20,000 people – the equivalent of the entire population of the Orkney Islands –- die early as a result of their work every year, through conditions such as occupational cancers and lung disorders, exposure to fumes and chemicals, and fatal traffic accidents.
The report finds many workers are also injured during the course of their work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates 246,000 workplace injuries should have been reported last year but many accidents go unreported or are not reported correctly.
The Case for Health and Safety reveals that 1.2 million working people in the UK believe they are suffering from a work-related illness. These illnesses include heart disease, stress, musculoskeletal disorders such as back, shoulder and neck pain, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
The TUC report disputes claims, which have fed calls from business for regulations or 'red tape' to be reduced, that the workplace is now much safer than it has ever been.
While the number of fatalities and injuries at work is falling, modern workplaces are different from those of the past, and employees still face dangerous hazards, diseases and illnesses at work, says the TUC.
The TUC is calling on the Government to ignore calls from the business lobby to reduce regulation and enforcement; champion the issue and appoint a Government 'tsar' for health and safety; use the UK network of 150,000 trained union health and safety reps to even greater effect; and support 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. That is why the UK continues to need strong regulation and enforcement. Every one of the 20,000 annual workplace-related deaths could have been prevented and if the level of HSE and local authority funding is cut, the effects will be even more catastrophic.
"Fatalities are not just statistics – they are real people, with lives and families – and any fall in inspections and enforcement will lead to an increase in accidents, injuries and deaths, and will have a huge impact on the already grave problem of workplace diseases."