Changing nature of working life and the new challenges |
The world of work has undergone enormous change in the last hundred years. To a large extent the very heavy, dirty and dangerous industries have gone, and the burden of disease, which came with them, in most European countries, has declined. However, the new working environments and conditions of work that have replaced them have given rise to new and different concerns about the health of the working population. Exposure to physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial risk factors at work are now much more clearly linked to health outcomes in the mind of the general public. Expectations of society in regard to health at work have also changed, with increasing demands for better standards of protection at work and for the improvement of the quality of working life. Employers are also recognizing that health-related issues, such as sickness absence, litigation and compensation costs, increasing insurance premiums, are expensive; ignoring them can lead to serious economic consequences. The best employers' emphasize the important message that good health is good business, and that much can be achieved in this field simply by introducing good management practices (HSE 1998).
The Need for employers
There are approximately 400 million people who work in the EU Member States. The majority of whom spend more than one half of their waking life at work. However, fatal accidents at work are still common. The standardized incident rates per 100,000 workers in the European Union (Eurostat 1997) show that the fatal accident rate varies between 1.6 in the UK to 13.9 in Spain, with Austria, Greece, France, Italy and Portugal all above 5.0%. In the entire European region there are approximately 200 to 7500 non-fatal accidents per 100,000 employees per year, of which around 10% are severe leading to over 60 days absence from work, and up to 5%, per year, lead to permanent disability (WHO 1995). It has been estimated that the total cost to society of work related injuries and ill health in the European Union is between 185 billion and 270 billion ECU per year, which represents between 2.6% to 3.8% of Gross National Product (GNP) in member states. The cost of workplace accidents and ill health, in both financial and human terms, remains an enormous, largely unrecognized burden in UK. The majority of those accidents and diseases could have been prevented if appropriate action had been taken at the workplace. Many responsible employer have consistently demonstrated that by paying attention to these issues this type of harm and the subsequent costs can be avoided, to the benefit of everyone concerned. Increasing concern is the growing awareness of occupational stress. Up to 42% of workers in a recent survey complained about the high pace of work. Job insecurity, fear of unemployment, lack of a regular salary and the potential loss of work ability are all additional sources of stress, even for those in employment.
The wide ranging social and health effects of occupational stress on the health of the working population are well documented, for example 23% of workers surveyed claimed that they had been absent from work for work related health reasons in the previous twelve months. The resulting cost of sickness absence in United Kingdom is considered to be substantial. In the UK 177 million working days were lost in 1994 as a result of sickness absence; this has been assessed at over 11 billion in lost productivity. HSE statistics are encouraging given in 2009; only 29.3 million days were lost overall, 24.6 million due to work-related ill health and 4.7 million due to workplace injury. Much of this burden of ill health and the resulting sickness absence is caused, or is made worse by working conditions. Even where ill health is not directly caused by work, but by other non-occupational factors such as smoking, lifestyle, diet etc. Interventions designed to improve the health of the working population, delivered at the workplace, may help to reduce still further the burden of ill health. At present the socioeconomic impact of environmental pollution caused by industrial processes on the working population is uncertain, but it is likely to contribute further to the burden of ill health in some communities.
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