The Welsh Assembly has announced a new occupational health schemeThe Welsh Assembly has this week unveiled its plans to ensure a healthy workforce in the country in order to overcome the high costs of employee absenteeism by introducing a national occupational health scheme.

It is claimed that work-related ill health costs the Welsh economy around £500 million every year and that occupational health services could play a key role in keeping this figure down.

However, the government asserts that "relatively few" people currently have access to such services in their workplace.

As a result, the Assembly is recommending that a national occupational health service is set up by the NHS and funded through contributions from employers.

Health minister Edwina Hart said: "Ill health and absenteeism not only affects employees in terms of creating barriers to employment, loss of financial independence and self-esteem, but also costs employers in terms of sickness absence and replacement of staff."

Professor Mansel Aylward, chair of the Wales Centre for Health, who led the report, added that flexibility was the key to delivering occupational health services.

The Guardian recently reported that 38 per cent of firms had no response scheme to deal with a potential swine flu epidemic.