For many employees occupational ill health can be life altering. The latest statistics suggest that 1.4 million workers suffer from work-related ill health.
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. For example, many serious occupational health issues, such as cancer, have a long latency period, making it difficult to link the exposure with the development of ill health.
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 diseases including:
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.
This can be caused by prolonged exposure to carcinogenic substances, or mixtures of substances in the workplace or skin cancers such as melanoma.
For example, loss of hearing or tinnitus (ringing in the ear), caused by excessive noise at work.
This may be 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 a number of steps to minimise the burden of occupation ill health and disease in their workplace. For example:
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.
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