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Knowledge Overview

To reduce the occurrence and impact that common health problems have on you and your workers, you need to know about the nature of the problems and the role of the workplace. This part of the toolbox gives you the key knowledge that you need: facts and the underlying principles. It will help you make sense of the relationship between health and work, and gives you ideas on what can and can’t be done and what you should and should’t do.

5 Key Items of Knowledge


Armed with this information, you’ll grasp the principles, but you’ll need to read some more detail to fully understand the Health↔Work message and be able to apply it across your workforce.

  • Work is usually good for our health and well-being. But, we all get common health problems at times – things like feeling stressed, anxiety, depression, back pain, minor injuries. They can occur whatever job we have. Mostly we can cope and carry on at work – that’s generally the best way to recover.

  • Most work is not dangerous – so long as it complies with the Health & Safety Regulations. Work is not usually a major cause of common health problems, yet they account for most long-term sickness absence. Clearly we have not been doing the right things to maintain health at work and prevent work loss.

  • Work may become difficult when we have a health complaint or injury. Helping workers stay at work or get back quickly is the best policy. The longer someone is off work the harder it is for them to get back, and the more it costs.

  • Some people struggle to stay at work or get back quickly. That’s because they face obstacles, not because they have a more serious health problem. Good management at the workplace is crucial for overcoming the obstacles.

  • Providing good jobs that are as comfortable as possible and accommodating workers in a supportive workplace when they have health complaints is the way to reduce the burden of health complaints at work. It is not that difficult to do, and will have tangible benefits. The starting point is to ensure your entire workforce is onside with the Health↔Work message.


  1. Commitment to the Health↔Work culture.

  2. Decide what information needs to be available to everyone.

  3. Arrange things so everyone knows where to find the knowledge they need, and are able to access it easily, quickly and repeatedly: think about making it available in printed and/or electronic format. You could also make posters.

  4. Ensure the organisation and all in it have worked out (1) an approach to minimise health complaints (collectively through making the jobs good) and (2) to rapidly and effectively help colleagues who are struggling to work because of their health complaint (with temporary support and accommodation). That is, be proactive not reactive.

  5. Find out if you've got the message across.


We’re a small manufacturing outfit with a mix of jobs: design work and production mainly. Talking to a chap from a similar company down south I realised we had a lot more sickness absence than they did. We looked into it and realised that most of the problem was related to everyday health complaints, and some of the staff were having frequent absences. I had a chat with them and realised they had a pretty negative view on work and health. I found a great guidance leaflet on a government website that explained the issues, busted some myths and gave some useful advice. First off I made sure all the staff read it, and then I got the managers onside to make life a bit more comfortable. They also started supporting people with their health complaints. There was a positive response from staff, and people don’t seem to be complaining as much about their health at work. Just getting the right knowledge helped us take a big step forward.

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