Statistics on the cost of work-related ill-health are truly eye-watering.
According to the Health and Safety Executive’s Annual statistics report for Great Britain, published in October 2013, more than one million UK employees suffered ill-health that they put down to work, and almost 23 million working days were lost in 2011/12 because of work-related illnesses.
Employers must tackle the causes. Being in ‘good work’, work that is safe, supportive and meets employees’ individual needs, can be one of the best things for an employee’s health and wellbeing; there needs to be more of it.
And, once basic health and safety risk is managed effectively, employers can go further and encourage staff to help plan health-related activities at work. This fosters social interaction and community spirit, with the happy consequence of a motivated workforce that is more productive and likely to stick around.
Leadership from senior managers is crucial to achieve staff wellbeing, and HR, occupational health, and health and safety practitioners all have important roles to play. Key to wellbeing is the promotion of positive mental and physical health to all employees, who need to be fully consulted and engaged in the process.
There are many free resources and online tools that can help employers assess the cost impact of wellbeing programmes and ill-health, such as our guides, A Healthy Return and Working Well .
The most sensible and cost-effective approach begins with issues that give staff most concern, such as stress or back and neck problems. Other areas for improvement include healthy eating, physical activity, smoking, alcohol and drugs. Initiatives could include smoking cessation support, healthy food options at work and, for staff in sedentary jobs, opportunities for physical activity at work.
Helping staff with health conditions to remain in or return to work following absence should be part of any wellbeing plan. As long as the correct provisions are made, managing an employee’s ill-health at work is often better than a prolonged absence.
Ultimately, the UK needs stronger multidisciplinary working on health, safety and wellbeing and better employer awareness of how to ensure that work is ‘good work’.
Richard Jones is head of policy and public affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health