The effective management of workplace health risk is an important issue for all modern workplaces. There are legal duties to comply with but also a strong moral and business imperative. What does ‘health’ mean in your business?

There can be a variety of workplace initiatives and perspectives on improving workers health, but I’d ask;

  • How many of these are based on risk or trusted information sources?
  • How integrated are your approaches to health?
  • Are there strong links and a common objective shared between all parties involved?


Why we must address work-related ill health

Health challenges in the workplacerange from those arising from and created by work activities, to those general to the population but which affect work capability and effectiveness. There are opportunities for employers to positively influence workers’ wellbeing by, for example, tackling environmental issues in the workplace, such as nuisance noise, lighting, or airborne contaminants.
Work-related stress is an area of particular interest for government, charities, trade unions and trade associations: in 2015/16 workplace stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 37percent of all work related ill health cases and 45percent of all working days lost due to ill health. The total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2015/16 was 11.7 million days; this equates to an average of 23.9 days lost per case.

The human, financial and societal impact attributable to stress, and other workplace conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders and occupational lung disease, is significant. Taking a proactive and preventative approach to the management of health at work is the best way to ensure that all workers are protected from illnesses.

HSE’s strategy for health

Given the scale and diversity of work-related ill-health it is unrealistic for HSE to attempt to address every issue at once. Instead, its strategy is to prioritise those illnesses that have widespread prevalence, the largest lost-time and economic-cost consequences, and those that have life-limiting or life-altering impacts. Of course, this does not mean that work-related illnesses that fall outside these priorities will be ignored.

There is cross-government interest in tackling the social burden of work-related ill-health through workplace interventions. The Department of Health’s (DH) interest and responsibility, is in preventing ill health and supporting people to live healthier lives, thereby improving health outcomes for individuals. Public Health England (PHE) has a broad remit relating to the protection and improvement of the general population’s health and wellbeing, and has just finished consulting on Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper. And, as the body established to implement the Health and safety at Work Act 1974, HSE has always focused on the prevention of ill health arising from work-related activities.

Addressing work-related ill health at an organisational level

Clare Forshaw, who leads the Centre for Health at HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL), says; “While there is now strong evidence to show work is good for you, for many people the risks at work are often still not reduced sufficiently to prevent harm.

“I would suggest that effectively managing health at work could be much improved and provide a more cost-effective approach if it was based on risk and credible information sources to support this”.

At an organisational level, HSL advocates the adoption of a unified, holistic and preventative approach to protecting employee health. For HR Managers, this presents the opportunity not only to promote healthier working throughout the organisation, but also to reduce absences due to work-related illnesses, and the costs associated with these.

HSL’s approach: Complete Worker Health Solutions

A fundamental problem for many organisations is knowing how and where to begin with identifying, assessing and remedying work-related health issues. Workplace health is not only the purview of health and safety managers. An organisation’s leaders, HR, finance and facilities management teams, and others, may be involved and have their own perspective on health management.

HSL advocates a holistic, tailored approach to managing health issues, To derive the greatest benefit both for individuals and for the business it is essential for these different areas to work closely together.

The path to success requires first ensuring that the risks created by work are fully identified and appropriately addressed. This enables the building in of a risk-based approach to the ongoing management of employee wellbeing that both explores what ‘wellbeing’ actually means to the individual and addresses their needs. In this way, the benefits gained from managing health can be integrated into one overall strategy for the business.
Called ‘Complete Worker Health Solutions’, HSL’s approach provides an organisation with everything it needs to integrate a robust and effective health strategy at the heart of its health and safety management systems. Taking a rounded view, this approach aims to engage employees at every level from senior leaders to front line workers, raise their awareness of potential work-related health issues and encourage them to take ownership and improve health and wellbeing.

Organisations can begin their journey with a fully-facilitated Health Management Maturity Workshop that assesses current health management performance, demonstrates what ‘good’ health management looks like, and shows how this can be achieved, step-by-step.

From here, HSL can work closely with stakeholders to create a systematic action plan that addresses the health issues unique to the specific organisation. Unlike off the shelf one-size-fits-all health approaches, Complete Worker Health Solutions ensures value by only providing what an organisation actually needs in terms of appropriate interventions, expert consultancy, and specialist training for leaders, managers and employees.
Furthermore, companies benefit from hands-on help provided by HSL’s in-house specialists who represent a wide range of health-related disciplines including occupational hygiene, ergonomics, behavioural psychology and biological monitoring. As a result, an organisation gains assurance that its health KPIs and risk management strategy are effective and sustainable, and that recommended health interventions will work together to provide the best return on investment.

By laying the foundations for an organisational culture in which everyone is engaged and takes responsibility for health and wellbeing, HSL’s Complete Worker Health Solutions’ approach brings about not only a happier, healthier and more productive workforce, but also makes good business sense and enhances organisational performance.

If you’re interested in improving worker health and wellbeing, don’t miss the opportunity to hear Clare Forshaw speak at HRreviews Health at Work Summit on the 4th May at the Holiday Inn Kensington Hotel.






Clare is the Head of Centre for Health at HSE.

Clare is involved in assisting both government and individual businesses in achieving their goals in health risk management. She has pioneered the Complete Worker Health Solutions model to allow accessible and targeted solutions.

She is actively involved in various industry working groups and cross government committees to influence and evolve understanding and approaches to improving health through the workplace.