The idea that workplaces are in the grip of a compensation culture where workers call in the lawyers at the slightest injury or accident is a complete myth, the TUC has claimed.
Fewer than one in ten people made ill or injured by their work ever receive any compensation from the state or from their employers, it argues in new research.
Despite fears about "ambulance-chasing" law firms increasingly targeting workplaces – and particularly big public sector employers – the reality is very different, the union body has stressed.
It has estimated that every year around 850,000 people suffer an accident or develop a disease as a result of their job, but no more than 80,000 receive any compensation either from their employer or from the state for their pain and suffering.
Every year 60,000 injured or ill workers apply for assistance under the Department for Work and Pensions Industrial Injuries Benefits Scheme, but fewer than half the claimants are successful and the majority of successful claims receive no cash payout, it added.
The cost of compensation for work-related disease and injury is dwarfed by the costs borne by workers and their families, the TUC pointed out.
It has carried out an analysis of official and insurance industry statistics, which reveal that the annual cost of compensation payouts under common law and industrial injuries benefit is less than £1.5 billion.
Yet the costs to the victims and their dependents is estimated at possibly as much as ten times that, at between £10.1 and £14.7 billion in 2001/2.
Occupational deafness, breathing disorders and vibration white finger were the work-related ailments most likely to receive compensation, with RSI and stress sufferers more likely to lose out.
There were just 3,000 successful strain injury cases in 2001, a year when the Health and Safety Executive estimated that almost half a million people developed work-related strain problems.
While six-figure compensation payouts always made the headlines, these were extremely rare, with the average compensation claim standing at just £10,000, said the TUC.
When legal fees and administration costs were taken into account, it was unlikely that the average claimant would even see half this, it added.
The UK's state compensation system also made it difficult for people who are made very ill by their work to receive any payment for their suffering.
Only half the 2,000 or so people who die every year as a result of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma received benefits from the DWP, and less than 100 people each year who suffer from lung cancer as a result of asbestos exposure get any help, calculated the TUC.
General secretary Brendan Barber said: "Some employers and commentators would have us believe that the UK is caught up in a compensation culture frenzy, where at a whim people who are ever so slightly injured at work get to walk away with huge payouts.
"The reality is very different for the hundreds of thousands of workers made ill or injured by their jobs each year."
Rather than curbing compensation, the current system needed a complete overhaul to give injured and ill workers better and quicker access to justice, he suggested.
"The way to end the UK's disposable worker culture is not higher and more compensation payouts, it's for more employers to take their health and safety responsibilities more seriously."