Both employees and employers have a duty of care, as defined by the Common Law Duty of Care, to ensure they are safe and operate safe practices at work to prevent illness and injury to themselves or others, and to comply with the relevant legislation for their workplace or industry.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has best practice guidelines and information regarding the protection of workers in the workplace. HSE has launched a strategy document ‘Help Great Britain Work Well Strategy’ and the key aim of this new initiative is to raise awareness of occupational health, preventive measures to protect workers from work related ill-health, and the importance of working together to keep people safe and healthy at work.
The Advice, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) provides guidance, information and training for employers and employees in regard to health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace.
An employee has a duty to inform their employer of any illness or impairment that they feel may be caused by their work. Medical information is treated as confidential and in accordance with the Data Protection Act. The employer can then undertake a risk assessment and, if appropriate, health surveillance to identify appropriate control measures to minimise risks. If the employee has a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010, the employer will need to consider making reasonable adjustments to support them in the workplace.
ACAS have best practice guidelines for managing sickness absence, which may be an issue for employees with health conditions that require medical reviews and investigations. Employees should ask their employer for a copy of the local policies and procedures for reporting sickness absence to ensure they follow correct procedures and receive entitlement to occupational sick pay or statutory sick pay.
Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) puts a duty on employers, the self-employed and people in control of work premises, the Responsible Person, to report certain serious workplace accidents, occupational diseases and specified dangerous occurrences (near misses).
Regulation 8 requires employers and self-employed people to report cases of diagnosed reportable diseases that are linked with occupational exposure to specified hazards, including those associated with exposure to carcinogens, mutagens or biological agents, as soon as the responsible person receives a diagnosis. The reportable diseases and associated hazards include:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: where the person’s work involves regular use of percussive or vibrating tools;
- Cramp of the hand or forearm: where the person’s work involves prolonged periods of repetitive movement of the fingers, hand or arm;
- Occupational dermatitis: where the person’s work involves significant or regular exposure to a known skin sensitiser or irritant;
- Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome: where the person’s work involves regular use of percussive or vibrating tools, or holding materials subject to percussive processes, or processes causing vibration;
- Occupational asthma: where the person’s work involves significant or regular exposure to a known respiratory sensitiser;
- Tendonitis or tenosynovitis: in the hand or forearm, where the person’s work is physically demanding and involves frequent, repetitive movements.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) provides a list of occupational diseases, from illnesses caused by chemical, physical and biological agents to respiratory and skin diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and occupational cancer. Mental and behavioural disorders are now specifically included in the ILO list. This list also has open items in all the sections dealing with the aforementioned diseases. The open items allow the recognition of the occupational origin of diseases not specified in the list, if a link is established between exposure to risk factors arising from work activities and the disorders contracted by the worker.
NHS Choices has helpful advice for employers on supporting employees with long-term medical conditions and advice for employees on coping at work with long-term medical conditions.
Gov.uk has helpful work health advice regarding specific health conditions in section 5 of this guidance document.
- If you have been off sick for four weeks or more, ask your employer or GP for a referral to Fit for Work.
- If you have an employee who has been off sick for four weeks or more, you can refer them to Fit for Work by visiting fitforwork.org/employer/ and clicking ‘refer an employee’.
- GPs can refer patients who have been, or are expected to be, off sick for four weeks or more by visiting fitforwork.org/general-practitioner/ and clicking ‘refer a patient’.