The Concept of a Healthy Workplace

11 Sep The Concept of a Healthy Workplace

Health is a somewhat complex concept. When defined simply as the absence of disease and injury, we miss the more subtle aspects that ensure the optimisation of human performance and promote wellbeing.

The modern Western world is facing a rapidly ageing population and increasing numbers of the working population are coping with the double burden of caring for and financing both children and elderly relatives. It is vital that successful businesses understand that the health and wellbeing of their workforce has to be nurtured in order to continue to be able to attract and retain staff as well as to ensure that their staff remain focused, engaged and productive.

One in five workers in the UK are currently aged 50+ and it is predicted that this will continue to rise to levels of around 1/3 of all workers in the next six years. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology considers this to be the most significant development in the UK labour market. 

Public health campaigns have created awareness of some fundamental health issues such as diet, obesity, smoking and exercise. However, it is the culture and social norms surrounding the individual that will dictate how much notice and what changes he or she makes in accordance with that advice.

Musculoskeletal injury is by far the biggest cause of absenteeism and related cost to UK Industry. Health and Safety figures show that an estimated 1.2 million people in Britain suffer work related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). 60% of all work-related illnesses are the result of back, neck or limb problems. Back pain is by far the most common and accounts for 119 million lost days at work.

The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show:

  • The total number of MSD cases in 2013/14 was 526 000 out of a total 1 241 000 for all work-related illnesses.
  • The number of new cases of MSDs in 2013/14 was 184 000, up from 141 000 in 2011/12.
  • The total number of working days lost due to MSDs in 2013/14 was 8.3 million, an average of 15.9 days per case of MSDs.


A recent report from The Work Foundation has found that musculoskeletal disorders, a group of over 200 conditions including arthritis, back pain and damage to joints, muscles and tendons are by far the most prevalent cause of work-related illness in the UK affecting twice as many people as stress. MSDs account for up to one third of all GP consultations, result in 9.5 million lost working days, and currently cost society approximately £7.4billion a year. They suggest that the onset of an MSD may reduce work performance in a variety of ways, affecting stamina, concentration and mood as well as mobility and agility. GPs and employers should look beyond obvious physical symptoms in their management of these conditions. The ‘biopsychosocial’ model of health emphasising the interrelationship between biological, psychological and social factors offers a useful approach to assessment, treatment and rehabilitation.


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