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Industrial Diseases

Volume 21: debated on Wednesday 31 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will study the criteria for identifying industrial diseases with the aim of bringing into benefit those who suffer from diseases such as bronchitis, where the incidence level is significantly higher among those with employment history in certain industries such as mining, if the subsequent sufferers have worked for a given number of years in the relevant industry;(2) if he will list the diseases such as bronchitis where the incidence is considerably higher among those who have been, or are, employed in certain industries such as coal mining; and if he will set out the incidence of these diseases among those with employment history in the relevant industries as compared with the incidence in the population as a whole.

The hon. Member is well acquainted with the statutory requirements which have to be met before a disease can be prescribed as an industrial disease under the industrial injuries scheme. Without those requirements, which are set out in section 76(2) of the Social Security Act 1975, we could not continue to justify paying the preferential benefits of the scheme and my right hon. Friend has no plans to alter them.A disease such as bronchitis, which is extremely common in the general population does not meet those requirements and cannot do so unless some way can be found of distinguishing cases which are work-related from ones which are not. The present state of medical knowledge does not enable that distinction to be made clinically and, on its own, statistical evidence of a higher than average incidence of such a disease among workers in a particular industry is not an adequate basis for prescription, with or without the addition of some special condition, such as a minimum qualifying period of employment.In these circumstances, a list of the type asked for by the hon. Member would be highly speculative and misleading. Furthermore, for the reasons I gave him in my reply on 5 May 1981—[Vol. 4, c. 8]—there are no available figures comparing the incidence of bronchitis in the population as a whole with that among workers in particular occupations. The problems posed by the incidence of bronchitis in certain occupations were considered in a report submitted to my right hon. Friend in October last by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council—"Industrial Diseases: a Review of the Schedule and the Question of Individual Proof'. Cmnd. 8393. The hon. Member may wish to refer to paragraphs 144, 145 and 159 vi in particular.