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Occupation-related Illnesses

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

12. What recent discussions he has had with the Health and Safety Executive on its programmes on occupation-related illnesses. (208029)

Ministers hold regular discussions with the chair of the Health and Safety Executive and its senior officials regarding the executive’s programmes on occupation-related illnesses.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although everyone regrets the tragic deaths of 241 people in industrial accidents last year, the perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 people who die every year from occupational diseases—cancers and so on—nevertheless represent a problem on a much bigger scale? Can I have an assurance that the Health and Safety Executive will crack down on that and have the resources to ensure that we both educate and encourage prevention—for example, where diesel fumes are allowed to permeate the working space—to make sure that another generation in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time will not die in that horrible way?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of deaths that sometimes occur a long time after people have ceased to work in a particular occupation. Of course, asbestosis accounts for about 4,000 deaths a year, which is the highest rate of any occupational health killer. I hope he recognises the importance of the hidden killer pilot that we rolled out in the north-west. It was not specifically aimed at diesel fumes, but it worked with tradesmen, particularly plumbers and electricians, to look at how they work in at-risk occupations. He is right to highlight the fact that the Health and Safety Executive, along with employers, employees and trade unions, needs to look at how we manage risk for the current work force and to ensure that those risks are reduced as much as possible.

The Minister will be aware that payments for certain industrial diseases, such as pneumoconiosis, changed on the demise of British Coal on 27 March 2004. Since then, there have been 3,300 new claims. I understand that only 300 of those new claimants have claimed benefit under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979. I understand that her Department did not put down the line the information that miners could now claim under the 1979 Act. Will she therefore look into the matter and ensure that, if it is shown that anyone has been disadvantaged by not being able to claim under the 1979 Act, they will allowed to make a new claim?

Of course, I will look at the points made by my hon. Friend, who has consistently and persistently promoted the cause of those miners who suffered as a result of working down the pits, and I will get back to him on that issue.

No Government have done more than this one to compensate those people who have suffered industrial health problems, such as coal miners, who were referred to by hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). However, will my hon. Friend the Minister look again at the 1979 Act, as my hon. Friend has asked, and look beyond the coal mining population, because a constituent of mine from the building industry, along with a handful of other people, has been told that his only way forward is to seek judicial review of the Government? That does not seem to be a humane way to deal with someone who manifestly suffers from pneumoconiosis.

Obviously, if my hon. Friend gives me the details of his constituency case, I will look into it for him.