Tackling Occupational Disease

Tackling Occupational DiseaseThe HSE has set up a new occupational disease community site, designed to encourage the promotion and exchange of ideas and initiatives for tackling occupational ill health.

According to the HSE, in 2011/12 there were an estimated 1.1 million working people suffering from a work-related illness, with around 450,000 new cases of occupational-related ill health and a further estimated 12,000 deaths each year caused by past exposures to harmful substances at work.

HSE says that traditionally, health issues in the workplace have been, and still are, harder to tackle than safety issues because cause and effect are often not clearly linked.

Many serious occupational diseases also have a long period of “latency”, some up to 30 years, between exposure and development of ill health or disease, making the links even more difficult to establish.

However, where the link is established and exposure can be measured, then interventions and activities aimed at raising awareness and creating behavioural change can work to reduce exposures and prevent ill health and disease.

The new occupational disease community site is intended to encourage organisations to get involved in reducing the burden of occupational disease and, in particular, share their approaches and knowledge in this regard. The primary focus of the site is on promoting initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of occupational cancer (from all routes of exposure) and respiratory diseases (including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and silicosis).

The community is open to anyone who has an interest in reducing the incidence of occupational disease and would like to promote their work or seek ideas.

Visit the HSE’s website for more information.

The launch of HSE’s site coincides with a new report on the future of occupational health by the Council for Work and Health (CWH). The report, Planning the Future: Delivering a Vision of Good Work and Health in the UK for the Next 5–20 Years and the Professional Resources to Deliver It, points out that workplaces are environments where most people spend most of their working age life and that work and the workplace are responsible for a number of acute and chronic health conditions and absences from work.

It highlights the following key statistics:

  • In 2011/12, there were 212,000 over-3-day absence injuries and 27 million working days lost due to work-related illness and injury
  • In the same year, a total of 1.1 million working people were considered to suffer from a work-related illness, with around 450,000 new cases of occupation-related ill health being reported annually
  • More than 12,000 deaths each year are estimated to have been caused by past exposures at work, mainly to chemicals and dusts.

Key strategic themes highlighted in the report include:

  • Using the workplace to improve health and wellbeing
  • Preventing work-related illness
  • Delivering integrated care – particularly to those with long-term conditions
  • Managing sickness absence.

The report represents the conclusions from the initial stages of the project. The next stages of the project will look at service delivery models, knowledge, and the competencies of practitioners and anticipated workforce requirements.

Launching the report, the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), a member organisation of the CWH, said the report made “a compelling case” for the development and repositioning of occupational health.

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