Knowledge In Detail

Common health problems in the workplace extract enormous societal, commercial, and personal costs, yet the adverse consequences can usually be avoided through relatively low-cost workplace interventions.

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.

We all get common health problems at times

 

We all experience common health problems and minor injuries at some stage during our lives, and this is not confined to working age.

 

The most common are:

Mental health [e.g. depression; anxiety; feeling stressed]

Musculoskeletal [e.g. back pain; neck pain; upper limb disorders]

Other complaints that interfere with work [e.g. blood pressure; asthma]

 

The symptoms of common health problems often recur, usually without rhyme or reason. They have substantial impact on workplaces because the symptoms are often work-relevant. That is, they are relevant to our ability to work and be productive, but are not usually due to the work itself.

Work is usually good for our health and well-being

Principle

We all get common health problems at times - feeling stressed, anxiety, depression, back pain, neck pain, minor injuries, etc. They can occur whatever job we have. Mostly we can cope and carry on at work and that’s generally the best way to recover. Ask yourself, do you think that you or other people need to be somehow 'protected' from work when you have symptoms of common health problems, or is work usually the best place to get on with recovering?

Quick Facts

Work is an important part of life. Work is good for physical and mental health. Not being in work for long periods can lead to worse health and shorter lives. This is important to all of us as individuals, to our families and friends, to employers and businesses, and to our society as a whole.

 

Our goal for a healthy life must include a healthy working life. To achieve this we need to know how to manage common health problems, and prevent them interfering with our ability to work and stay productive.

 

The nature of work is important: good work is good for health and well-being. A good job is a comfortable job in a supportive work environment, where the workplace accommodates people struggling with work-relevant symptoms.

Practical Implications
 

  • This toolbox aims to encourage everyone to cultivate good jobs by making them comfortable and to generate supportive workplaces that accommodate people while they recover from common health problems.
     

  • The people who can make this happen are line managers, supported by senior management establishing the right 'culture'.
     

  • We will know it has been successful by reducing the number of cases requiring healthcare, and reducing the amount of long-term sickness absence.

Most work is not dangerous

 

Principle

So long as it complies with the Health & Safety Regulations, most modern work is not truly dangerous. It may have some unpleasant or uncomfortable aspects, but work is not usually a major cause of common health problems. Despite this, they account for most long-term sickness absence. Clearly we are not doing the right things to maintain health at work and prevent work loss.

Quick Facts

Work is not usually a major cause of common health problems, yet they account for most long-term sickness absence. Clearly we are not doing the right things to maintain health at work and prevent work loss.

Common health problems can occur whatever job we have.

We do need work to be safe

We do not need to be 'protected' from our work

Practical Implications

There is a lot that can be done to make our working life a healthy one. This is neither time-consuming nor resource intensive.

Work may become difficult when we have a health complaint or injury

 

Health complaints and minor injuries can be irritating or even distressing to any of us. They can interfere with ability to work and be active, but they are not ‘severe’ in a medical sense and there is no reason to expect they will not improve. In fact, most people remain at work or return quite quickly, and they come to no harm. Those who find themselves struggling or going off work don’t actually need to – if they get a little help from the organisation.

 

Line Managers can arrange temporary flexibility at work to make it possible to stay at work, or to return safely and early.

 

Workers can discuss what will work for them with their line manager and with their healthcare provider.

Mostly we can cope and carry on at work

 

Principle

Common health problems are work-relevant because the symptoms can interfere with your ability to do your usual job, although they do not always do this. You need to know that helping someone to stay at work or to 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.

Quick Facts

Most episodes of common health problems are short-lived and people can stay at work or need only a short time off.

 

Paradoxically, most long-term sickness absence is actually due to these problems. This should not happen, especially if we were all doing the things we know can prevent prolonged sickness absence. The reasons people stay away from work for long periods is driven more by obstacles that are psychosocial in nature, than by the severity of illness or injury.

 

The graph below illustrates how common health problems affect people and industry. Basically, what it shows is that most people get symptoms, but only for some does work become problematic. Most people can and do cope with their health at work. Only a minority struggle, and very few need sick leave. But, and it's a very big but, the number of people taking time off work and staying off work has been going up and up.

 

The really important thing to grasp is that these numbers should not be going up across our society, and that extended sick leave for common health problems can be prevented and needs to be prevented.

Graph 650x397.png

Practical Implications

  • This is important to you as a line manager because there are things you can easily do to reduce the chances your workers will need time off, and you need to especially focus on preventing it turning into long-term absence (a disaster for everyone). When any of your workers have long periods of sickness absence there is an effect on overall productivity through loss of skills, the need to find cover, lack of experience in newer staff, or the need to ask others to work overtime. There is invariably extra cost to your organisation/company, and there is also a collective impact on our society and all taxpayers. A few simple things can make people feel better and be more productive.
     

  • This is important to you as a worker because there are things you can do to prevent the need for time off work, and especially a long time off. Extended periods off work results in substantial reduction in quality of life, and people usually experience more health problems as time goes by. It becomes much harder to get back into work, and this is made worse by deterioration in skills and confidence along with the feeling of isolation from work. All of this extra suffering tends to extend to family members as well, compounding the problem.

Helping people to stay at work or get back quickly is the best approach

 

Principle

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 a supportive workplace that allows temporary changes to job tasks is the best course of action.

Quick Facts

The longer someone is off work the harder it is for them to get back, and the more it costs.

We now have good evidence that returning to work as soon as possible actually helps recovery. It is the best way to avoid long-term sickness.

Obstacles delay getting back to work

 

Good management at the workplace is crucial for overcoming the obstacles.

Reducing the Burden of Health Complaints at Work

 

Principle

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.

Graph2 525x238.png

Quick Facts

Common health problems should always be manageable: the paradox is that so many end up on long-term sick. That is costly for your organisation, for the workers themselves, and for society.

 

Despite better working conditions and better access to health care, the number of people with symptoms has not reduced. More importantly, the number of people claiming disability has actually increased. Whatever we’ve been doing up to now, it clearly hasn't provided an effective answer.

 

The longer people are off work, the less likely they are to get back – the slide into worklessness is all too easy. Fortunately there is a lot you can do to help: quickly, cheaply, and effectively.

 

It’s crucial to step in and help without delay. We now have a much clearer picture of what needs to be done. The toolbox makes it possible for you to play your part to make this happen.

 

Practical Implications

  • Common health problems in the workplace extract enormous societal, commercial, and personal costs, yet the adverse consequences can usually be avoided through relatively low-cost workplace interventions.

Using the Knowledge

 

Remember our goal is to prevent escalation of work-relevant common health problems. It should be able to operate 'just in time' to reduce the incidence of these problems, and their developing or getting worse. It should strike a balance between avoiding incautious common health problem reporting and avoiding inhibition of reporting that warrants healthcare.

We need to learn what to do and how to identify the various problems and enablers to these action plans.