New approaches needed to promote worker health and well-being

A new, 'joined up' approach is required to tackle the on-going problem of workplace ill-health in the UK. Occupational ill health and injury in the UK have high financial and personal costs for employers and employees. Around 28million working days are lost each year to occupational ill health and seven million days are lost due to workplace injury. Absence due to sickness costs the UK around £12billion each year. And, after two years on Incapacity Benefit, a person is more likely to die or retire than return to work.

How should the UK's occupational health challenges best be addressed? The booklet 'Public Policy Seminar on Health and Well-being of Working Age People', published jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Department of Health (DOH), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlights some current evidence on health, work and well-being, identifies key areas for future research and explores potential interventions to improve workplace health from the perspective of employers, employees and those currently out of employment.

Professor Ian Diamond, ESRC Chief Executive outlines the current occupational health issues. "In a modern world where rising dependency ratios and global market forces place an ever-greater burden on those of working age in supporting others, their health is becoming of increasing importance for Government policymaking," Professor Diamond explains. "As the balance of the economy continues to shift from manufacturing towards service provision, the type of risks workers face, the hazards they are exposed to, and the injuries people sustain as a result of employment will continue to change.

"Indeed the whole terrain of occupational health is transforming," he continues. "And concentration on problems such as absenteeism and accidental injury is giving way to a broader vision of what a healthier and happier and more productive workforce can achieve in terms of higher performance and productivity."

To address the changing terrain of occupational health will require further evidence-based policymaking. And, in the booklet 'Public Policy Seminar on Health and Well-being of Working Age People', policymakers, researchers and occupational health experts highlight those areas which merit more research evidence before robust policies can be formulated.

Says Jonathan Rees, Deputy Chief Executive, Health and Safety Executive: "To realise the ambitious aims for worker health and well-being we have set, we need all the relevant players in the public sector at the national, regional and local levels to work closely with the private sector, worker representatives and voluntary organisations. New ways of working are required to facilitate the level of co-operation required. We are all learning how to do this. But we also need to improve our knowledge and evidence base in respect of the interaction of health and work. We need a better understanding, for example, of the characteristics of 'good' jobs which protect and promote health and well-being from 'bad' jobs which do not. We need to know what evidence exists that certain policy interventions work."

Dr Bill Gunnyeon, Director, Health Work and Well-being and Chief Medical Adviser, Department for Work and Pensions, adds: "We know that being out of work has negative health effects and can lead to social exclusion, health inequalities and relative poverty for individuals and their families. Being in work brings positive benefits in building self confidence, maintaining self esteem, ensuring social contact and allowing individuals to optimise opportunities for themselves and their families. And this in turn has benefits for communities and for society as a whole. Against this background it is clear that we need to support people with health conditions and disabilities to help them remain in or wherever possible to return to work. Further research is now needed to establish how we as a society can rise to the challenges posed in securing healthier, safer, happier and more productive workplaces."

Dr Craig Jackson who led the first of the two ESRC Public Policy Seminars in July 2006 on worker health and well-being confirms the need for a stronger evidence base. "Policymakers are currently developing strategies to improve the health and well-being of current and potential employees. But to succeed these strategies will need collective support from individuals, families, communities and employers. It is vital, therefore, that this ambitious agenda for change is built on a firm evidence base."

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Professor Tom Cox on 0115 846 6627 or email: tom.cox@nottingham.ac.uk

Dr Craig Jackson on 0121 331 5550 or email: craig.jackson@uce.ac.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Two public policy seminars were held in London on 11 and July and 8 September 2006 to address the health and well-being of working age people. These seminars were organised by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Department of Health (DH), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The first seminar explored this topic from the employers' perspective while the second addressed the issues involved from the viewpoint of employees. A joint ESRC/HSE/DOH/DWP publication titled 'Public Policy Seminar on Health and Well-being of Working Age People' accompanies this seminar and is available from the ESRC.

2. ESRC runs a programme of Public Policy Seminars throughout the year. These public policy seminars aim to bring the best social science concepts and evidence into the policy arena and stimulate discussion on how, in the light of these insights, policy can be developed.

3. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC total expenditure in 2005-06 was£135million. At any time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk


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