West Midlands companies cannot afford to water down health and safety procedures while operating in developing markets, according to experts at law firm Eversheds.
Businesses in developing economies such as India and China, which lack the same regulation as industrialised countries, could add value to products and services by setting a leading example through stringent health and safety practices.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics claim 4,147 West Midlands firms are exporting outside the EU. While fatalities have dropped in many industrialised nations, they are on the rise in other countries, particularly across Asia.
The International Labour Organisation claims the global death toll from work-related incidents and disease is a staggering 2.2 million per year.
David Young, health and safety partner at Eversheds in Birmingham, said: "There are a number of West Midlands firms with subsidiaries and operations in developing economies, and they have a role to play in ensuring health and safety standards are not compromised.
"Accident levels are so low here because we have a zero tolerance policy towards safety breaches - the simple fact is since penalties for poor health and safety increased, the number of accidents has dropped. Nobody should have to put their life at unnecessary risk while doing their job.
"However, for some reason this does not always translate overseas and this is where UK companies come in. By adopting a proactive approach to raising the bar in terms of health and safety in less industrialised nations, they can add significant market value to a product or service. Countries like India are not only looking to import our expertise and services for major projects, but also our enviable health and safety record."
Despite the UK's good accident-prevention record, Birmingham solicitors Williamson and Soden are urging employers to take seriously machinery incidents, falls, slips and trips, manual handling injuries or back problems by implementing appropriate policies and procedures and ensuring these are kept up to date.
It points out long-term sickness absence costs UK companies more than £3.8 billion a year and since this impacts on performance, profits, staff morale and the overall competitiveness of the business, employers ignore their heath and safety responsibilities at their peril.
Medical conditions can bring on stress and employers who try and dismiss workers because of their health problems may face claims under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.
Similarly, it is dangerous to dismiss someone as a troublemaker for speaking out about alleged malpractice because such action may automatically be deemed unfair if the case goes to an employment tribunal.
"In the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1999, genuine whistleblowers who disclose information on alleged wrongdoings can be protected from unfair dismissal," said Karin Henson, employment solicitor at Williamson and Soden.
"The legislation covers all employees and workers and means you cannot be complacent and simply do nothing if they draw to your attention amongst other things, situations likely to be hazardous to health.
"No business can afford to simply ignore concerned employees because external disclosures can be very damaging to a company's image and reputation in its marketplace and it could lead to potentially expensive compensation claims."
Ms Henson advises employers to put in place a robust health and safety policy and update it regularly and institute proper training.