Occupational ill health and disease – don’t let it be a burden

Sick lady

For many employees occupational ill health or disease can be life altering, but for some it can mean premature life ending. The latest available statistics suggest that more than 1 million people are suffering from a work related illness, with approximately 12,000 people dying each year due to past exposures to harmful substances at work.

Health concerns in the workplace can be more difficult to address than pure safety issues, as there is not always a clear link to the cause and effect, e.g. many serious occupational diseases, such as cancer, have a long ‘latency’ period, some up to 30 years, making it difficult to link exposure and the development of ill health or disease.

In addition, even when workplace hazards that can effect a workers’ health are recognised, and changes to working practices to reduce the problem are put in place, there might be a lengthy delay before a reduction in the causes of ill health and disease or death are seen.

There are many different types of occupational ill health and disease including:

  • Respiratory diseases, such as asthma or silicosis caused by, or made worse by, something a worker breathes in at work, e.g. wood dust, stone dust, or fumes.
  • Cancers, e.g. caused by prolonged exposure to carcinogenic substances, or mixtures of substances in the workplace or skin cancers such as melanoma.
  • Noise induced hearing damage, e.g. loss of hearing or tinnitus (ringing in the ear), caused by excessive noise at work.
  • Hand-arm vibration syndrome, due to prolonged use of vibrating tools and equipment which can cause long term painful damage to hands and fingers, e.g. vibration white finger.

What can employers do to eliminate or minimise the burden?

Employers can take positive steps to minimise the burden of occupation ill health and disease in their workplace and there are a number of methods employers canfollow to achieve that, e.g.:

  • COSHH risk assessments help employers identify any hazards associated with working with chemicals and what controls might be needed to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm
  • Consider the results of other work related risk assessments to identify any additional hazards their employees are at risk of being exposed to, that have the potential to cause occupational ill health or disease,e.g. manual handling tasks or working with vibrating tools

Whether health surveillance is required is often determined by risk assessment and where that is the case it is important to establish the form this should take, so that it adequately addresses the risks and potential ill health effects employees may be exposed to.

Citation provides a wealth of assistance to help clients minimise the burden of occupational ill health and disease including fact sheets containing general guidance on topics such as, Health Surveillance, Noise, Vibration, COSHH and Asbestos.

If you would like more information on the services we provide please contact Citation directly.


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