Work-related illness

Work-Related Illness (WRI)│Health and Safety

Work-Related Illness (WRI)│Health and Safety

In this article, our H & S Consultant, Colin Jones, discusses Work-Related Illness (WRI)

What is Work-Related Illness?

Work-related illness is any health condition caused or made worse by, your job.

This can include sudden injuries, such as a slip or trip, or ‘slow’ injuries, such as the development of repetitive strain injury (RSI) or the ill health effects of stress at work.

Work-related ill-health includes:

  • physical injuries, ranging from sudden and obvious injury to longer-term strains and stresses on the body, such as backache, RSI, asthma, certain cancers, hearing loss and eye-strain; and
  • mental ill-health, such as stress, depression or anxiety. Mental ill-health can be brought on by overwork, unacceptable pressures, bullying and intimidation, harassment, or hazardous exposure to certain chemicals, e.g. solvents or sprays.

Work-related illness by Type 2019/20

Recent statistics 2019/20 published by HSE illustrate a higher than normal trend in self-reported ill-health than in recent years. Statistics illustrated are pre-covid.

WRI has affected 1.6 million workers

51% is attributed to Stress, depression and anxiety

30% Musculoskeletal Disorders

19% Other types of illness

38.8 million workdays lost at a cost of over £16 billion

A problem of the 21st century

We have not however seen the same decline in diseases. Despite huge advancements in technology and changes in the labour market the editor of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health has claimed: “never in history has there been so much occupational disease as exists in the world today.” Much of this is because of the emerging problems of new jobs and new work methods. Some diseases have soared dramatically.

Cases of the fatal lung cancer mesothelioma have risen from 153 in 1968 to over 2,000 40 years later. This is caused by exposure to asbestos, which, although its use is now banned, is still present in over a million workplaces.

Changes in the type of work and how we work have also changed the nature of occupational diseases. There have been far less change in what are called “musculoskeletal disorders” such as back, neck and shoulder pain, or RSI, which affect over half a million people. This is partly because of the increase in assembly work and repetitive jobs, as well as the huge rise in IT, with far more people typing and sitting for long periods.

The other big increase has been the rise in the number of people suffering from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This is often caused by stress at work. Part of the increase is likely due to the greater awareness of the issue and improved willingness of those who suffer from it to report it; however, the increased number is also likely to have been fuelled by changes to how we work, with many people feeling they have less control over their work, or feeling less secure.

It is estimated that around 415,000 people suffered from a work-related stress illness last year. In the 21st century, there are far more people working in sectors such as social care, call centres, and health provision. These all bring with them new health risks.

We have seen the emergence of problems such as needle stick injuries and latex allergy amongst health workers, or acoustic shock in call centre workers. In the private care sector back injury has been a growing concern as a result of the lifting that takes place.

However, two types of conditions account for over 70 per cent of all work-related illnesses. These are stress-related illnesses and musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain and RSI. Unfortunately, there is still a view that these illnesses are less worthy of sympathy or action than injuries caused by “accidents”. Anyone who has experienced chronic back pain or long-term depression will know that they are not minor ailments, but debilitating diseases that can have a major and devastating effect on a person’s quality of life……..…….

(Taken from an article written by the TUC)

What Can We Do?

It is clear that the impact on businesses and affected individuals is still a concern. As employers, it cannot be ignored. You can take sound practical steps to minimize the impact and this will vary greatly depending on resource and operational constraints.

Doing nothing is not an option when you step back and look at the disruption, cost and time wasted caused by WRI. It affects every industry. Look at what you are currently doing to manage WRI and ask yourself – is it sufficient? What do I need to do to improve this?

Remember work-related injury is both mental and physical.

If you have any Health and Safety concerns or would like to discuss anything further, please get in 
contact with the HPC team today.

T: 0844 800 5932


Twitter: @HPC_HRServices

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