Work Related Illness Under Many People’s Radar
Few people are aware that some 12,000 workers die each year from health conditions related to work and, according to YouGov research for health and safety expert Croner, most severely under-estimate the impact of work-related illness.
Croner commissioned the research to test public understanding of occupational health issues and found one problem where general awareness is high, with 59% recognising stress as the work-related ill health issue that has the most new cases each year.
What tends to cloud people’s perception is that only about 170 fatalities occur each year from injuries sustained while working.
After being given the above figure, very few (7%) taking part in the survey opted for the correct number of deaths in Britain which are due to illness arising from past exposure at work, mostly to chemicals and dusts.
As the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revealed, this averages around 12,000 per year.
More than one in three (36%) said fewer than 500 deaths are caused by work-related illness each year. Half (50%) opted for fewer than a thousand fatalities while 16% confessed ignorance.
While most correctly identified stress as the major problem, a similar number of people opted for cancer (12%) or musculoskeletal disorders (11%) as the most frequently diagnosed health problems that arise in the workplace.
The HSE has promised this year to make occupational health one of its priority campaign themes – an initiative welcomed by Safety Technical Consultant at Croner, Stephen Thomas.
“Although workplace injuries can be tragic, life-changing events,” he said, “occupational illness is a much bigger threat to UK business and its workforce. This research demonstrates that the true scale of the problem is largely underestimated and illustrates why employers need to be more proactive in protecting the health of their workers.”
Employers could do better with occupational health
A sizable number of employers are missing out on the chance to demonstrate commitment to their employees’ wellbeing. Almost one-third (31%) of workers surveyed by YouGov said that their employers did not provide occupational health services, such as health information, counselling, wellbeing programmes or health checks.
The answers also revealed something of a gender gap, with 34% of women saying that their employers did not offer any occupational health services, compared with 28% of men.
There was some disparity when it came to assessing where responsibility lies for preventing ill health in the workplace.
While 61% of respondents agreed that it should be shared equally, a sizeable minority (24%) argued that the employer was mainly responsible.
Of those able to access occupational health services, information is mentioned by 36% and counselling by 32% with well-being programmes the next most popular service (22%), followed by general health checks (such as blood pressure and flu jabs) with 21%.
More specific health surveillance targeted at certain occupational health hazards (including hearing/lung function tests, etc) is least common: only 13% of workers say they benefit from this type of testing.
Stephen Thomas said that, despite the benefits that offering such services could bring, the survey demonstrates that their distribution is uneven at best, with significant variance between gender and age.
“While specific health surveillance such as hearing or lung function testing is more relevant in certain industries,” he concluded, “universal services such as counselling and wellbeing health checks can make a huge difference not just to employees’ physical and mental health, but also to the morale of the whole workforce.”
Part-time workers left feeling sick
Recent research has shown that part-time workers feel increasingly trapped in their jobs – they miss out on promotion and there are few similar level jobs available – but now it seems that they also lose out when it comes to protecting their health.
Despite employers having an identical duty of care to all employees, Croner’s research has revealed a clear divide in the health benefits enjoyed by full-time workers and their part-time colleagues.
YouGov asked the sample of adults what their employers did to prevent ill-health in the workplace. Typical occupational health programmes include providing relevant health information, counselling, wellbeing initiatives and health checks.
Of those working full time, more than one in four (28%) say they do not receive such services, while this figure rises to 42% among part-timers.
According to Croner, the disparity may reflect a lack of knowledge or commitment to occupational health among employers in sectors that rely more on part-time working.
Alternatively, employers may be less effective in promoting occupational health programmes to their part-time staff or may see health benefits more as a perk than a duty.
Whatever the reason, sizeable minorities within both groups disapprove of their employers’ approach to occupational health: nearly one in three (31%) full-time employees says their employer is not proactive, even more than part-timers (28%).
Stephen Thomas, said that the findings on occupational health provision raised several concerns.
As well as having a duty of care to ensure, to a reasonable extent, the health and safety of all their employees, employers needed to consider whether their workforce would benefit from more diverse services by consulting with the people concerned, both full- and part-time.
“And occupational health is a business benefit too,” he concluded. “Investing in useful, proactive health surveillance, monitoring and support can not only help individuals but also prevent lost working time and productivity.”