Clinical update

Health in the workplace

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2011/12 there were 27 million working days lost to work-related illness and injury in the UK, costing the economy an estimated £13.4 billion.

Essential facts

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2011/12 there were 27 million working days lost to work-related illness and injury in the UK, costing the economy an estimated £13.4 billion. Of these, 39% were caused by stress, depression or anxiety. More than one million working people were considered to have work-related illness, with around 450,000 new cases of occupational ill health being reported annually. It is estimated at least 12,000 deaths each year are caused by past exposure to particular working conditions.

Picture credit: Alamy

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published public health guidance to improve the health and wellbeing of employees. There is a particular focus on organisational culture and context, and the role of line managers. NICE says that healthy workplaces make for happy and effective employees.

The workplace conditions that cause poor health include long, irregular hours, lack of control over work and discriminatory practices, says NICE. Lower-paid workers with fewer skills or qualifications are more likely to experience poor psychosocial working conditions and worse health, said a briefing published by Public Health England in 2014.

Back pain is a particular issue. The Trades Union Congress estimates British businesses lose 4.9 million working days per year to work-related back pain. An estimated one in six working people in England and Wales is affected by anxiety, depression and unmanaged stress.

The new guidance provides advice on how to help organisations create a positive environment. Health and wellbeing, says NICE, should be a core priority for every organisation’s top management, where the strategic importance and benefits of a healthy workplace are valued and the business case is made explicit.

Mental wellbeing at work is among the topics highlighted, with a particular emphasis on respecting work-life balance. The guidance suggests using the HSE’s management standards for work-related stress, which offer advice on managing the six primary causes.

Other recommendations address fairness; participation and trust; the physical environment; senior leadership; the role, leadership style and training of line managers; and job design.


Expert comment

Dawn Wyvern is a member of the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners UK

‘This guidance has similarities to the Scottish Healthy Working Lives award. This follows a set of criteria that companies meet before being awarded bronze, silver or gold for proving compliance and implementation. I’d like to see recognition for health at work that reflects the effort to put these recommendations into place.

‘Recent statistics show the construction industry is still very hazardous. Sites are prime areas for occupational health intervention to improve understanding of hazards at work. I’d like to see more mention in the guidance of prevention to protect workers. Diversity support, for example for transgender workers, is also missing.’


Find out more

NICE Workplace policy and management practices to improve the health and wellbeing of employees (June 2015)

NICE Promoting mental wellbeing at work (November 2009)

HSE Management standards for work-related stress

PHE Workplace interventions to improve health and wellbeing (September 2014)

Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners UK

Council for Work and Health

Planning the future: occupational health and its workforce (April 2014)

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