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Occupational Ill-Health in the Modern World


This is the second part of a series of  pages relating to the frequency of occupational disease especially in the UK. The first page poses a few questuions. 

Self reported Work Related Illness:

The Health and Safety Executive in 1990, and again five years later, added trailers (supplementary questions) to the Labour Force Survey in England and Wales. 
The initial results showed that in the adult population of England and Wales (a representative national sample of about 75,000): Nearly 6% of adults reported suffering from a work-related illness in the previous 12 months ('caused or made worse by work') 

In terms of prevalent numbers of cases, the results implied a total of 2.2million cases (in England and Wales alone) 

Out of these, 1.3 million, i.e. just over one half were perceived to have been directly caused by work, and the rest aggravated by it. 

Self-reports of musculoskeletal conditions far exceeded those of any other disease/ ill-health category with an estimated number of nearly 600,000 prevalent cases 'caused' by work (the majority of these were related to back problems). 

The following categories gave an estimated prevalence of cases 'caused' by work of just over 100,000 each: 

  • Long term consequences of injury and poisoning 
  • Stress/depression 
  • Deafness /other ear conditions 

Validation of Self Reports of Work Related Illness

Clearly self-reporting of this kind can be subject to several sources of bias, affecting some disease categories more than others, and perhaps operating in different directions. Some of the disease categories, such as occupational asthma and dermatitis, have been the subject of intensive surveys with diagnoses made by relevant specialists. One such project was the SWORD scheme (Surveillance of Work Related and Occupational Lung Disease). These studies have tended to show a fair agreement between the medically diagnosed incidence and the self-reported prevalence of these conditions, and in some situations suggest that self-reporting may under-estimate some categories of ill-health caused by work. 

Issues of validation of self-reporting were carefully considered in the earlier HSE Research Paper 33, entitled Self-reported work-related illness (by Hodgson JT, Jones JR, Elliott RC and Osman J) which you may wish to consult in the library. It was published by HSE books in 1993 (ISBN 0-7176-0607-4). 

Bias resulting in under-reporting of occupational ill-health is considered separately in another WWW resource


The costs to the British economy of work accidents and work-related ill-health

This is the subject of a Health and Safety Executive report by NV Davies and P Teasdale, published in 1994 by HSE Books (ISBN 0-7176-0666-X). It followed the health and safety supplement to the Labour Force Survey in England and Wales, mentioned above. In summary it concluded that the overall cost to the British economy of all work accidents (including avoidable non-injury accidental events) and work-related ill health was estimated to be between £6 billion and £12 billion a year. 

The total costs to society as a whole was estimated to be between £11 billion and £16 billion. This was equivalent to between 2% and 3% of total Gross Domestic Product, or a typical year's economic growth. 


Find out more about:

  • Ill-health and the Work Environment
  • Good Health is Good Business - An Introduction to Managing Health Risks at Work: A campaign from the Health and Safety Executive