Healthy at work: The most common health problems in the workplace and how to prevent them


Workers in Britain take more time off than those in any other country. How can you, as an employer, proof your business to ensure that staff keep healthy?

UK workers take an average of nine days' sick leave each year, more than four times as many as other Western European countries. This costs UK employers about £29 billion a year in lost productivity. Reasons range from commonplace illnesses like colds and flu to chronic musculoskeletal problems, while mental health conditions are the single most widespread cause of long-term absence. Alleviate the burden of sick days with these steps to improve staff’s health.

Musculoskeletal problems - This term covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or tissues and can be exacerbated or caused by workplace tasks. Problems of this nature include upper and lower limb disorders, repetitive strain injuries, osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. There are several measures you can take to reduce employees’ risk of these disorders, which include:

  • Make the task and workstation suitable for each worker.
  • Introduce regular breaks to reduce the risk of repetitive injury.
  • If lifting heavy items is part of an employees’ job, ensure they undergo adequate training.

Mental health issues - Creating a supportive working environment for employees makes economic sense; around £2.4 billion is spent annually on employees who leave work because of a mental health problem. Many people with mental health problems want to work, but they must feel confident that their employer supports them. If one of your employees is off sick due to a mental health issue, be sure to communicate with them regularly and have a flexible system in place that recognises their challenges and needs within the working environment.

Everyday illness - Colds and flu viruses can spread rapidly through a workplace. Encourage good hygiene with well-placed hand sanitisers, boxes of tissues and a tolerant sickness policy. Encouraging employees to take time off could actually reduce the number of days lost by illness overall. You might want to consider offering the flu vaccine to staff too, as immunising your employees against the flu is the best insurance against the virus spreading.

Food poisoning is caused by germs, toxins or chemicals in food or drink and it can be contagious. Cross-contamination is one of the most common causes of food poisoning so keep food preparation areas clean and ensure the communal fridge is cleaned weekly.

The health of a business relies on the health of its employees. Reducing staff sick days means supporting staff when they are sick, encouraging good hygiene and overseeing employees’ physical wellbeing at work. Creating a reassuring, communicative workplace where employees are happy and confident in their employer’s support can have a positive effect on absenteeism.