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1.8 million UK workers suffer with work-related illness – what support is available?

Find out about available support for work related health issues, the latest figures published by HSE and what this means for UK employees

A photo of Dom Limberg, the author

By Dom Limberg

Published on: 24 November 2023

5 min read

1.8 million UK workers suffer with work-related illness – what are employers doing to help?

A recent study by the Health & Safety Executive found that nearly 1.8 million workers across the country are suffering with work-related ill health. This is a shocking figure and something needs to be done as soon as possible to tackle these issues.

Unsurprisingly, around half of people asked reported their main health concerns were about their mental health, primarily stress, depression or anxiety (or a combination). Employers need to start taking more responsibility for both the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees and sooner rather than later.

With the option to offer increased health support being possible, it’s disappointing that many UK businesses simply aren’t doing enough to support their workers and reduce the number developing work related health issues. We are hopeful that the findings of this report will encourage change and more accountability for UK employers to provide the support their workers desperately need.

QUICK SUMMARY – 1.8 million UK workers suffer with work-related illness – what are employers doing to help?

There have been almost 1.8 million cases reported of workplace illness or injury over 2022 – 2023. The main question here is why this is happening and what can employers do to better support their employees’ health and wellbeing?

  • 49% of workplace sickness absence was due to mental health reasons such as anxiety, depression or stress. 27% was because of musculoskeletal issues and 24% was due to other illnesses or injuries.
  • If you are struggling with your health due to your workplace, there is support available through services like the NHS or Access to Work grants to help you keep your job if you live in England, Wales or Scotland (different support is available in Northern Ireland)
  • You are well within your rights to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to your working environment if it is contributing to health issues. Reasonable adjustments could include more flexible working hours while you recover, alternative duties for a while or adapting your workplace where possible.

The levels of long term sickness has risen over the last few years following the effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Some of this can be related back to coronavirus itself (e.g. long Covid) and many other people have found their mental health has not fully recovered from the impact of the pandemic and increased financial pressures due to the current cost of living crisis.

In 2022/23, about 1.8 million UK workers had to deal with health issues from their jobs, and of those people, 875,000 were linked to stress, depression, or anxiety. This is according to what the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found in a recent study.

Infographic image from Health & Safety Executive

Image source: Health & Safety Executive

Job-related health problems caused a massive 35.2 million working days to be missed during this time, far more than what we were used to before the pandemic.

Sarah Albon, the head of HSE, talked about how good it would be if we could tackle work stress. She rightly pointed out how beneficial this would be for everyone involved – with employees getting a better working environment and staying healthier overall. It also allows for bosses get more work done, less people avoiding work and a lot less staff turnover.

Broadstone also found that:

  • 677,000 new cases of job-related health problems get reported each year
  • These cases of occupational ill health resulted in a cost of around £13.1 billion in 2021/22
  • 48% of people needed time off work for 7 days or longer, with an average of 17 sick days
  • Around 14,200 people did not return to work due to occupational ill health
  • A case of work related sickness resulted in costs for businesses of around £19,300 – £39,400 depending on the length of absence

An accident or illness can be considered ‘work-related’ if the condition is directly cause by events or exposures within the workplace. It also applies if your work environment directly contributes to worsening a pre-existing illness or injury.

Everyone has the right to a safe and supportive workplace environment and it’s awful to see figures for workplace illness consistently rising. Here at MPO we’re hoping that the recently published figures will work to shine a light on these issues and encourage changes to be implemented which mean UK employers have to offer better support to their employees.

The HSE report is a shocking read and it’s sad to see that so many UK workers are suffering with their health due to their job role or workplace. Occupational ill health affects not only the person with the medical issues but also the entire team and workforce, and so it makes no sense for employers to not want to tackle these issues head on.

You are well within your rights to ask for reasonable adjustments to be made to your working environment if it is contributing to health issues. Reasonable adjustments could include more flexible working hours while you recover, alternative duties for a while or adapting your workplace.

Access to Work grants may also be available for workers with disabilities. to help them keep their jobs. This is available if you live in England, Wales or Scotland (different support is available in Northern Ireland).

You can also contact organisations for extra support such as:

Brett Hill, the health and protection guru at Broadstone, has sounded the alarm for bosses to do better in supporting their employees health and wellbeing.

He suggested investing in health benefits at work or giving people easy access to healthcare through digital doctors and check-ups. Hill also noticed the government is shaking things up, with the expectation that there will be more demand for bosses taking charge of healthcare in the coming months and years.

Many UK business owners (both larger corporations and smaller family-run businesses), are increasingly thinking about buying private health insurance to enhance their support for employees.

Business health insurance plans come with various advantages aimed at assisting employees and reducing instances of illness, something that employers are likely to appreciate.

These benefits include features such as:

  • Comprehensive cancer support services, aiding individuals from diagnosis through treatment to recovery
  • Access to online 24/7 GP services, enabling employees to address health concerns from the comfort of their homes
  • Additional perks like gym discounts and complimentary items to uplift employee morale and bolster retention rates

The range of health insurance options in the UK can be overwhelming for those unfamiliar with how theses policies work and how to find the right ones. It’s important to find the right policies, especially for business health insurance cover, as it affects both the employees individually but also the overall business and workforce.

If you’re not too sure if business health insurance is right for your business or you want to find out more, it can be useful to speak to a health insurance expert.

For free advice, you can speak with our reliable health insurance partners at 0800 009 6559 or click here.

Here is more of the latest news affecting employee health and wellbeing in the UK.

Almost 7 million UK adults now have private medical insurance

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