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In 2007/08 an estimated 2.1 million people in Great Britain were suffering from an illness they believe was caused or made worse by their current or past work (UK Labour Force Survey, 2008).
One way you can minimise the impact of work-related illnesses include carrying out a
risk assessment for your work activities. View
further details on these illnesses.
Back pain is currently the largest reported reason for sickness absence in the UK. Back pain can be caused by many situations, however it is more common in some jobs e.g. roles that involve heavy manual labour, repetitive tasks, extensive driving, sitting at a workstation for a long time or manual handling. Back pain comes under the umbrella term of
musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Whilst not all back pain can be prevented, the employer has an important role in controlling workplace factors associated with these conditions, and encouraging employees to report back pain at an early stage and seek appropriate treatment.
There are various legal obligations that the employer must meet:
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Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are amongst the most commonly reported work-related condition in Britain. These disorders affect muscles, joints, tendons and other supporting tissue and are associated with pain and reduction in the normal range of activity.
Musculoskeletal disorders is an umbrella term which includes back pain and upper limb disorders.
MSDs are a problem in nearly every workplace and can be caused by a number of factors, including, but not limited to:
The role of the
Whilst not all MSDs can be prevented, the employer has an important role in controlling the workplace factors associated with these conditions, and encouraging employees to report MSDs at an early stage and seek appropriate treatment.
Steps you can take to help prevent MSDs:
Work-Related Upper Limb Disorders, or ULDs, is the name given to a group of clinical conditions affecting the upper limb such as Tenosynovitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and Tennis Elbow. At one time they were known as
Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI). Now they are called ULDs because it is recognised that repetition is only part of the problem; other factors are important as well. However, some doctors and others still use the term RSI, often for aches and pains that don't fit into the clinical categories. ULDs affect the shoulder and arm, including the forearm, elbow, wrist, hand and fingers.
ULDs can also include neck pain. There is a wide range of symptoms, such as tenderness, aches and pain, stiffness, weakness, tingling, numbness, cramp, or swelling.
Many jobs carry a slight risk of developing aches or pains in part of the arm or shoulder. If untreated, and continually aggravated, these aches can develop into a ULD. It is important to note that ULDs are not always caused by work. For example, CTS can be due to a hormone imbalance, particularly in women. However, many jobs can still aggravate pre-existing ULDs.
The exact cause of many ULDs is not clearly known. But it is known, in general, that there are three factors which can provoke or cause them:
Additionally, the way in which work is organised and managed can also be a factor in causing ULDs or making them worse. These factors are interlinked: for example, the more awkward the posture is then the lower the level of force or tension which can be easily and safely withstood. The more strain that is generated by an action the less often it can be held or repeated without causing problems.
Steps you can take to help prevent ULDs:
Display Screen Equipment (DSE) has become one of the most common kinds of equipment used at work. It refers to any work equipment having a screen that displays information. Typical examples are computer screens, often called monitors or VDUs. Problems with DSE are generally caused by the way the DSE and associated equipment is used, not by the actual DSE.
Computer workstations or equipment can be associated with neck, shoulder, back or arm aches and pains, fatigue and eye strain. These aches and pains are sometimes called upper limb disorders (ULDs) or repetitive strain injuries (RSI). See the corresponding information above for further information on ULDs.
The employer has a duty to ensure they comply with the
DSE requirements by assessing both the workstation and the working environment of employees who regularly use computer workstations and display screen equipment. The employer should ensure that workstation assessments are carried out by appropriately competent and trained assessors. Following any assessment, suitable adjustments should be made to the workstation as required for the user.
Steps to help prevent problems associated with DSE use
The DSE Regulations set out guidance on the minimum standards and requirements for working with Display Screen Equipment (computers) and highlight possible risks to health from using such equipment, such as upper limb disorders (ULDs). The employer has a duty to ensure that they comply with the Regulations by assessing both the workstation and the working environment of those employees who regularly use computer workstations and display screen equipment:
Asthma is characterised by inflammation in the airways which can lead to symptoms such as cough, wheeze, chest tightness and breathlessness. Work-related asthma is a broad term which includes those individuals with pre-existing asthma, whose asthma is made worse by substances in the workplace (work-aggravated asthma) and those individuals who, regardless of pre-existing asthma, have asthma caused by occupational exposure to an allergen or irritant.
This latter group, which has true ‘occupational asthma’ falls into two categories:
Respiratory irritants are substances that may trigger attacks in both those with occupational asthma or pre-existing asthma e.g. chlorine or dust.
Substances which cause occupational asthma are known as
respiratory sensitisers and can be manufactured chemicals or naturally occurring materials, such as hard wood dust. Once initiated the sensitisation process is irreversible. A substance is considered to cause occupational asthma if it is able to produce both the physiological changes associated with this hypersensitive state in the airways, and trigger subsequent attacks.
Symptoms can develop right after exposure to a substance, or they can appear several hours later, possibly at night. This can make it difficult to establish a link with workplace activities. The
Health Risks at Work initiative has additional information on breathing risks and a
risks to breathing video (external link) to aid understanding.
If an individual develops occupational asthma, exposure must be controlled to prevent triggering of further attacks. If notified of the case in writing by a doctor,
the case needs to be reported to HSE as required by RIDDOR 1995.
The role of the employer
The employer has an important role to play in controlling workplace exposures, in providing appropriate
health surveillance and encouraging employees to report symptoms at an early stage.
Steps to help prevent occupational asthma
Dermatitis is characterised by redness, itching, scaling, rashes, hives or blistering of the skin. The two common forms of dermatitis usually seen in the workplace are allergic dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis.
When the skin comes into contact with
hazardous substances at work, this can cause occupational dermatitis to occur. Substances which might cause occupational dermatitis include cleaning products, organic solvents, metalworking fluids, cement, adhesives, other chemicals, and even certain plants.
The employer has an important role in controlling workplace exposures to agents which cause occupational dermatitis and in providing appropriate
health surveillance and encouraging employees to report symptoms at an early stage.
Health Risks at Work initiative has additional information on risk to skin and a
video to aid understanding of risks to your skin (external link).
Steps you can take to help prevent occupational dermatitis:
When individuals are exposed to high levels of noise in the workplace, it can lead to permanent hearing damage. This damage can cause poorer hearing ability (general hearing loss), as well as a condition known as tinnitus, which manifests itself as a constant ringing in the ears. Loss of hearing can have a huge impact on a person’s life e.g. conversations can become difficult to follow, and they have trouble using the telephone. Tinnitus can be a very distressing condition and can lead to disturbed sleep. There is no treatment available to cure either condition.
Noise is measured in decibels (dB). An ‘A-weighting’ sometimes written as ‘dB(A)’, is used to measure average noise levels, and a ‘C-weighting’ or ‘dB(C)’, to measure peak, impact or explosive noises. Decibels are a logarithmic unit. A reduction in noise of 3 dB is the equivalent of halving the intensity of the noise. A person could work for twice as long at the reduced level and have the same daily personal noise exposure as before. Therefore a reduction in noise exposure of just a few decibels can make a big difference.
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 places a general duty on employers to reduce the risk of hearing damage to the lowest level reasonably practicable. The Noise Regulations require employers to take specific actions at certain action values. The action values relate to:
At the lower exposure action values of a daily or weekly exposure of 80 dB(A) and a peak sound pressure of 135 dB(C), you are required to take certain actions, such as the provision of hearing protection, information, instruction and training etc.
At the upper exposure action values of a daily or weekly exposure of 85 dB(A) and a peak sound pressure of 137dB(C), further management action is required, including controlling the noise at source and designating hearing protection zones where the use of ear protection is mandatory.
There are also levels of noise exposure which must not be exceeded at any time, called exposure limit values. These values do take into account the effects of wearing hearing protection i.e. the dB experienced by a person wearing hearing protection will be lower than the dB produced by the source of the noise. These values are a daily or weekly exposure of 87 dB(A) and a peak sound pressure of 140dB(C).
More details of noise risk and preventative measures.
Steps to help prevent work-related noise and hearing loss
The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 require employers to prevent or reduce risks to health and safety from exposure to noise at work, employees have duties under the Regulations too. The Regulations require you as an employer to:
Stress can be defined as the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed upon them. Work-related stress arises where work demands exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope.
Work-related stress is a significant cause of illness and is linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and work errors.
There are strong links between stress and physical effects such as heart disease, back pain, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances or various minor illnesses. There are also strong links with psychological effects such as anxiety and depression, loss of concentration and poor decision making.
The employer has an important role in controlling workplace factors which have been shown to be associated with work-related stress, and encouraging employees to report concerns at an early stage and identify appropriate support. Additionally, while the employer is not under a legal duty to prevent non-work factors, a supportive environment will help employees to seek help for other issues and minimise their impact at work.
The HSE has developed Management Standards as a key approach for dealing with work related stress. The
HSE Management Standards (external link) represent a set of conditions that, if present, reflect a high level of health, wellbeing and organisational performance.
Steps you can take to help prevent work-related stress:
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