Work-related ill health: importance of occupational health

Work-related ill health: importance of occupational health

Any health condition that is caused by or made worse by a job is defined as work-related ill health.

In 2021, 1.7 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness, the majority of whom were experiencing work-related stress, depression or anxiety (over 800,000 people) and workers suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (almost 500,000 people).

Causes of work-related ill health
The main causes of work-related stress, depression or anxiety are reported to be due to: people’s workload, a lack of support, violence and/or threats of bullying, changes at work and, following the onset of coronavirus, the effects of the pandemic have also been a major contributory factor.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are reported to be caused by awkward or tiring positions, keyboard work or repetitive actions and the effects of the pandemic have also been a major contributory factor. MSDs can also be acute traumas that occur during an accident, for example a fracture.

Impact on workers and their jobs
People experiencing work-related ill health often feel too unwell and unfit to work, with each person suffering taking 17.5 days off work in 2021. This not only impacts the individual’s performance and development at work but also their organisation both financially and in terms of productivity.

Whilst employees’ absenteeism is easier to record, an increasing issue within the workplace is presenteeism; people are going to work when they feel unwell either physically or mentally or both.

Personnel Today found 7 in 10 organisations have witnessed presenteeism in the last 12 months which has had an impact on the wellbeing of staff and their ability to fulfil their role.

What can employers do to prevent work-related ill health?
Employers have a legal duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their workers which includes protecting them from anything that may cause them harm.

As the UK saw 32.5 million working days lost due to work-related ill health in 2021, it makes financial and practical sense to make an upfront investment in employees’ health in order to pre-empt risks and promote wellbeing. This is often far more cost-effective than responding to the consequences of ill health, particularly when staff absences create their own set of problems such as increasing workloads and stress for other employees.

Mental health training and support
As the majority of work-related ill health is due to stress, depression and anxiety, it is essential that managers are able to spot the signs when someone is feeling mentally unwell and how the workplace may be a contributing factor.

Mental health training can provide the knowledge and skills needed to spot the signs of mental ill health, how this can be caused or made worse by workplaces and how to help people. It can also be helpful for organisations to have Mental Health First Aiders to provide people with the confidence in speaking up about their struggles.

Occupational health
Another way of protecting workers’ wellbeing is to implement the use of occupational health as qualified and experienced practitioners are skilled in supporting the prevention of work-related illnesses, managing return-to-work cases following illness, and are aiding the quality of life and earnings of employees.

Employees are more likely to feel confident to share when they are feeling unwell as a result of their work if they believe their employer cares about their wellbeing. This can then support the employer’s ability to make adjustments to the individual’s tasks and understand more about their capabilities. This communicative culture can in turn lead to higher morale and lower staff turnover which translates directly into competitive advantages, reducing sickness absence and improving business performance.

Contact us for occupational health support
If you want to support the health and wellbeing of your employees and minimise the risk and impact of work-related ill health, get in touch with us via email: or phone: 0121 601 4041.

*Health and Wellbeing at Work 2021 report (CIPD in partnership with Simply Health)

Sources: HSE (2022); HR Grapevine (2022); CIPD (2021); Personnel Today (2021)