26 March 2004

The cost and effect of ill workers

RSM conference
Tuesday 30 March 2004 The Royal Society of Medicine

On Tuesday 30 March the Royal Society of Medicine will present ‘What about the workers?’, a conference examining the current state of occupational health in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive reported that economically active workers in this country visit their GPs more than two million times per year with occupational ill health complaints. Less than 3% of organisations adequately manage occupational health risks, leaving many of the country’s workers vulnerable to health problems as a result of their working environment.

Needless unemployment: the public health crisis
Professor Mansel Aylward CB, Department for Work and Pensions
Although the overwhelming majority of people claiming incapacity benefits expect to return to work, less than 25% will be in employment twelve months later. Professor Aylward highlights the recent dramatic increase in the number of claimants with a mental health diagnosis. These, and the common health problems which affect the great majority of people receiving incapacity benefits should be ‘manageable’. He points out that with the right level of support, these conditions should not prevent them from returning to work and discusses the new Government Pathways to Work initiatives set up to address the problem. Progress made on 'A Framework for Vocational Rehabilitation’, to be published later this year, will be addressed.

Incapacitated workers: who’s picking up the bill?
Mr Alan Tyler, Swiss Re Life & Health
The number of people of working age in receipt of some form of state incapacity benefit exceeds 2.7 million, but what are the costs to industry? Estimates vary from £11.6 billion to £34 billion per year, Mr Tyler explains, but most companies don't know the full extent of how this affects the running of their business. Although most companies monitor the level of absence and the impact of direct salary costs, they cannot calculate the effect on business productivity. He reports that many companies feel they need more guidance in measuring and managing costs more effectively and expert help in identifying services that will maximise the potential to return employees to work, whether from the NHS or the private sector. There is also evidence to suggest that employees would welcome a more active approach by their employers in this area.

Two common occupational health problems
The effects of ‘occupational asthma’
Professor Anthony Newman Taylor, Royal Brompton Hospital
In addition to the effect asthma has on the ability to perform in the workplace, Professor Taylor discusses how agents inhaled at work can be the primary cause of asthma. He will talk about research carried out over the last 20 years investigating the occupations in which this condition occurs, ‘exposure-response relationships' and evidence that the incidence of the disease can be reduced by decreasing exposure to its causes.

Facilitating cardiac rehabilitation of workers
Professor Martin R Cowie, National Heart & Lung Institute
Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of people not being able to return to work and Professor Cowie's presentation will focus on rehabilitation of workers after an acute cardiac event. In addition to emphasising the importance of a combined approach of exercise, psychological support and education, he will look at the effects of anxiety and misconceptions about health that hinder a return to full activity. 'A better understanding of the cause and course of the heart condition can help people return to their normal life and place in society. The NHS is getting much better at providing this service - but access needs to be improved for women and those from minority groups'.

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