Occupational health work and health effects

An overview of the effects of work on health in the UK and the costs to employers and society and advice on how these health effects can be prevented and where to go for more information. 

The most recent statistics obtained by HSE from the Labour Force Survey show the harmful effect of some types of work on health. In 2014/15:

  • an estimated 2 million people were suffering from an illness they believe was caused or made worse by their current or past work;
  • 23.3 million working days were lost due to work-related illness; and
  • 4.1 million days due to workplace injury.

The rail industry workforce is included in this survey and many of their workers will have suffered from work-related illnesses. You can find data on the extent of work related ill health among rail workers in ORR's report  pdf icon PDF, 2,028 Kb 'Better health is happening: ORR assessment of progress on occupational health up to 2014, and priorities 2019'

HSE estimates that new work related illnesses (excluding occupational cancers) cost:

  • GB society around £9.4 billion in 2013-14;
  • the majority, around £9.2 billion, was due to ill health cases resulting in 7 or more days of work;
  • employers (rather than to individuals and government) an estimated  £1.79 billion;
  • society £18,700 for each new case of workplace ill health; and
  • employers £3,900 per new ill health case.

Many work-related health problems can be prevented if work is properly managed and controlled. The case studies page provides examples of good practice. Work needs to be properly planned to both understand and stop health risks. An appropriate risk assessment will identify the risks and this can then be used to make sure the work is carried out without causing workers health problems. Guidance on risk assessments can be found at the HSE.

Managers and supervisors have a key role in identifying and managing risks to workers' health. The rail manager competence pages provide good practice guidance on what rail managers need to know on occupational health and how to manage these risks, including a draft health training syllabus for rail managers.

The Government-led initiative, Health, Work and Wellbeing aims to protect and improve the health and wellbeing of working age people.  Further information can be found on their website. Anyone who wants to improve their own health and help others to do so can find a range of advice on the Department of Health's (DoH) website.

Employers can also voluntarily sign up to the DoH's public health responsibility deal pledges. By signing up, organisations commit to help improve public health through their commercial and community actions and activities as well as their responsibilities as employers.

A recent whitepaper 'The Evidence: Wellbeing and employee engagement' has been published by the Engage for Success Wellbeing Subgroup. This sets out the evidence for the link between employee engagement and wellbeing and helps to demonstrate why this matters to workers and will help drive sustainable organisational performance. This is a two-way, possibly self reinforcing relationship: health employees are committed and committed employees are healthier.