Occupational disease is a complex, difficult problem. For many workers, an occupational disease can be life-altering. For some, it can be life-ending.
Many factors determine the severity of an occupational disease. But one thing is certain: Occupational diseases are widespread. The most recent data available shows that in 2011-2012, an estimated 1.1 million working people suffered from a work-related illness, with almost half contracting a new case of occupational-related ill health, according to the HSE. On average, 12,000 people die each year from past exposure to harmful substances at work.
Tackling the prevalence of occupational diseases is difficult because unlike safety issues, occupational diseases often have no clear link between cause and effect. It can take years for symptoms of exposure to harmful substances to develop, leaving the victim and the employer baffled as to what caused the symptoms in the first place. Due to this period of symptom latency, even if employers recognise and remove dangerous workplace exposure, there could be a long delay between exposure removal and a reduction in the causes of ill health or death.
But if a clear link between exposure and ill health can be established, and that exposure can be quantified, then employers can intervene, raise awareness and implement behavioural change that eliminates or reduces exposure and prevents ill health or death. Your business could be beset by several different types of occupational diseases, such as the common ones listed below:
- Respiratory diseases affect the breathing system, including the mouth, nose and lungs. Occupational respiratory diseases are caused or made worse by something employees breathe in at work, such as wood dust, stone dust and fumes.
- Skin diseases afflict people in a wide range of industries. The avoid, protect, check (APC) approach can reduce or eliminate the chances of suffering painful or even debilitating skin conditions.
- Asbestos-related diseases are the single greatest cause of UK work-related deaths. Asbestos is still found in many workplaces.
- Cancers are caused by harmful substances called ‘carcinogens’. Occupational cancer stems from prolonged carcinogen exposure in the workplace.
- Noise-induced hearing damage comes from protracted noise exposure. Hand-arm vibrating syndrome develops from regular exposure to vibration and causes long-lasting damage to hands and fingers.
- Musculoskeletal disease plagues the upper and lower limbs and the back.
- Stress does not discriminate and can severely undercut worker productivity.
Bollington Risk Management has a library of resources and the expertise to help your business battle occupational diseases.