What if Work Makes You Ill? Dealing with Work Related Illnesses

A job should never adversely affect a worker’s health, but it’s a sad fact that in Britain many people are still becoming ill because of their work. There are many ways you can suffer from work related illnesses. Our guide looks at identifying ill health related to the workplace, and what can be done about it.

Worker in an office suffering discomfort because of back related illness

Work related illnesses like stress, Back Pain, depression and RSI are all too common nowadays. This is in addition to more serious long-term conditions like asbestosis which can cause death.

Sickness and injury in the workplace has a huge effect on business productivity


38.8 million Estimated working days lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries in 2019/20

Source: Hse Labour Force Survey

Whatever the symptoms or causes of workplace sickness, workers have the legal right to be kept safe and healthy by employers. They should never have to work with equipment or substances that could endanger health. Employers have a duty of care which is at the heart of UK health and safety law. Failure to carry out this duty of care can leave a business open to legal action.


How Can Work Make You ill?

There are many ways that a workplace can make you ill. There are also many different medical conditions that can be caused or made worse by problems at work.

Everything from serious accidents to poor lifting techniques can have an impact on your health. However, the good news is that most of the factors that cause workplace illnesses are avoidable.

Following the proper safety rules laid down by the government and carrying out regular Risk Assessments should keep most people safe from harm.

Bad working practices and poor health and safety measures are usually to blame for workplace illnesses. This can happy even though your employer has a legal duty to keep you safe.


Examples of Work Related Illnesses

Because you spend so much time at work there can be a wide range of health issues caused by work. Here are a few of the most common conditions faced by British workers:

Asthma

As many as 3,000 workers develop occupational asthma each year. At the same time, up to 4,000 more who already have the condition, are made worse because of their job. It is thought to be caused by an allergic reaction to airborne particles, such as flour or wood dust.

Back Pain

This is one of the biggest problems in the UK, and the most common work-related illness. Although there is no definitive cause, it can be brought on by manual lifting, repetitive tasks, driving or sitting at poorly designed work stations for long periods of time.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs).

Problems with the muscles, tendons, ligaments or joints affect more than one million people in the UK. One of the most common disorders is Repetitive Stain Injury (RSI) which can cause permanent damage to the neck, wrist or hands.

Noise Damage

Excessive noise at work can damage your hearing. There are risks in many industries although wearing protection can often help protect your hearing.

Skin Diseases

All kinds of hazardous chemicals, substances or agents found in the workplace can lead to skin disease. Dermatitis and urticaria are probably the most common examples, although skin cancer can also be a risk for people working outside or near certain chemicals.

Stress-Related Illnesses

According to official figures these conditions are affecting more and more people at work. Stress has become a real problem that can lead to long-term illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Although every job contains a degree of pressure, excessive demands can lead to stress-related illnesses.

Vibration Injuries

Exposure to hand arm vibration, through tasks like drilling, or whole body vibration by driving commercial vehicles can cause a range of medical problems. This can lead to problems such as vibration white finger, carpal tunnel syndrome and other conditions like back pain.

Vocal Injuries

Damage to the voice otherwise known as dysphonia can affect workers in a wide range of sectors, particularly if the job involves long periods on the phone, or communicating in noisy conditions.


What Should You do if Work Makes You ill?

Health and safety law in the UK is extensive and covers almost every possible factor that could make you ill or the victim of an accident.

The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are responsible for creating and enforcing the safety laws across the UK. If you feel you have been made ill or are facing unacceptable risks at work check with the HSE, as failure to comply with health and safety law is a serious offence.

All workers have statutory rights around health and safety so your employer cannot take any action against you for reporting problems.

Trade unions also have the legal right to investigate health risks on your behalf. Many workplaces now have union safety representatives so you should always ask for help if your job is putting you at risk.

If you have already become ill your GP can issue a sick note and provide advice on the cause of your condition and any rehab needed to improve it.


How Can You Prevent Workplace illnesses?

The HSE provides a huge range of advice on complying with Health and Safety Law and staying safe at work.

Lots of this can be common sense but if you do have a problem you must report it to your bosses immediately so they can take action to improve working conditions.

There should be regular risk assessments about the dangers you face in the workplace, as well as an initial assessment when you first join a company.

Health and safety laws cover almost everything you could encounter in the workplace including:

  • Temperature.
  • Ventilation.
  • Sanitation and washing facilities.
  • Computer equipment.
  • Working with tools.
  • Working at height.
  • Seating.
  • Dangerous substances.
  • Rest breaks and holidays.

You also have duties and responsibilities so you should always follow any rules set out by your employer, such as wearing protective equipment and following safety instructions.

34 thoughts on “What if Work Makes You Ill? Dealing with Work Related Illnesses

  1. Becky says:

    This is my story & I’d just like to hear people’s opinions. I’ve suffered from anxiety, depression & OCD for many years & could not work. My uncle owned a jewellery shop with his girlfriend – then she decided to leave. Previously I had used the shop as somewhere to go in town if I had a panic attack. My uncle then offered me a job. To work along his girlfriend until I could do the job – so I went thru pathways – and they helped me get back into work. I was told if i became ill or took on too much I could contact them & go back to my benefits & leave the job. This wa 2011. I was put on sick in December 2013 & had to finish in June due to having 2 nervous breakdowns. But I believe the job made my illness worse – as of last year I was diagnosed as bipolar too. But we had no toilet. No seperate room to sit in. It’s just a shop, 1 room. I was always alone & couldn’t do my job in located time so was always late finishing, sometimes till 8:30pm (we closed at 5). Wages were never on time. Breaks were not always possible. Bank holidays he said he didn’t have to pay it was his choice & we were told when we had to take our holidays in January when the town is dead. So I was put on sick December 2013 & was still ill in June – so my boss asked me if I thought I’d be well enough to work that summer as he would need staff – I told him my psychiatrist did not recommend this so he asked me to write a letter saying I’m still ill & will have to leave. He said quicker I get him the letter the quicker I’d get my holiday money. Now I had handed a sick note in on June the 1st for a month. But my boss used the date on the letter. Which just happened to make it 5 days short of 6 months – so not going straight on to sick pay from DHSS. So I’m still (6 months later) receiving £74 a week – while they decide I’m ill. The money I was owed from the employer I got a lot less than expected. My pay was £800 I worked 30 hrs a week – so owed 4 weeks holiday pay & wages owed – I recieved £565! This man berated me, belittled me & infront of customers. In that job I had many toilet accidents – been as there was no toilet. Infact it’s a known staff joke that everyone has c**ped themselves at some point. And then totally messed up my benefits. No one dare speak up to him & he doesn’t even believe I’m ill – as depression you should just pull yourself together! He doesn’t believe I’m disabled too, but funny 3/4 of his staff have mental health issues. I even had suicical thoughts whilst working there & even tried at one point. I don’t care the DHSS haven’t sorted my money yet as long as I’m away from him & the job. A job I was very good at & thought I was making steps forward – now I’m back to staying in the security of my home. Do you believe this I was unfairly treated? Or think I didn’t need to write a letter as I had a sicknote? Thanks

  2. Chopper says:

    I am 60 years old and a stonemason and i find it very hard to do my daily tatasks due to my joints aching all the time and i get very depressed what can i do

    • Safe Workers says:

      @chopper – Have you spoken to your GP about this? They may be able to offer you some kind of help with aching or pinpoint the reason for it. You could also try and seek the help of an occupational therapist. They can look at ways you do your job and sometimes make suggestions or even provide equipment to make it easier. If you work for a company ask if they can refer you to one.

  3. brutus999 says:

    I was wondering if anyone could help me with my problem and tell me where i stand legally. A lad at my place of work was off sick with Shingles and my manager in his infinite wisdom forced the guy to return to work while still contagious. Now at least 8 people including myself are off work now with Shingles and my employer is refusing any of us sick pay.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @brutus999 – Your employer cannot refuse to pay you statutory sick pay (the key word ‘statutory’). You are eligible if you earn more than £111 per week and have been off sick for 4 days. The fact that the employer forced someone to return to work earlier may be more difficult to act. The shingles may have been contagious before or after the employee became absent or returned anyhow…you’d need to seek medical advice on this.

  4. Muvver says:

    My brother was wrongly accused of gross misconduct. He has worked for this company for eight years with unblemished record. He broke down at his disiplinery hearing in March and has been off with stress and depression ever since. He has also developed a serious hand tremor due to his anxiety attacks and has been told by his doctor that he might never recover from this. He is 61years old and will now never work again. He has asked the company for a settlement agreement to terminate his employment with them. How much should he ask for? Any help would be appreciated. N

  5. Chrissie says:

    I work in manufacturing. I started getting a bad neck when moved to a different department 12 years ago, have now been diagnosed with osteo arthritis in 3 parts of my neck. I was sitting down doing this job all that time. We now stand up but now I have a frozen shoulder due to repetitive movement. I am now 62. I am very distressed as I was planning to work part time when receiving my pension in January. My physiotherapist says that I shouldn’t continue with this work. What can I do? Your help would be much appreciated Christine Lines

  6. Searsy says:

    I recently get a red face and dry skin, I’m having a patch test done by the hospital to see if I’m allergic to anything. I would with GRP which is glass reinforced plastic, I also work with silicone and adhesives, where do I stand if it is work that is causing this !? Thank you

  7. Binkie says:

    I have fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME – my job is causing me lots of stress & anxiety as I work from home as a Customer Services Agent purely because of my condition & due to having customers constantly complaining it is causing me lots of stress & upset – I have been to my GP & had a note from my GP to ask me to move departments & I have been refused – what can I do?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Binkie – If there is no other work available for you to do, then your employer will have no choice but to let you go, if you are not fit to do the job that you were employed to.

  8. bob says:

    Hi I have a condition called ornithophobia (fear of birds), at work recently some one has been feeding the birds out side the windows in the office i work in. I have asked the person to stop feeding the birds,but i’m not sure if they have. I have told my manager that someone has been feeding the birds on the windowsill and he is aware of it. He suggested that I move to another chair in the office,but I can still see the bird from where ever I sit in the office or rest room as it has now learnt that if it sits on the windowsill and taps on the window with its beak someone will feed it. I know it sounds silly but I am now frightened to go to work as I can see the bird every time it turns up. I lay awake at night unable to sleep stressing about the bird. What if anything can my employer do about the bird ? am I within my rights to take time off with stress until they have introduced some anti bird measures? I have already spoken to my doctor about the fear of birds and I hope they will offer me some therapy but at the minute i’m just to scared to sit in the office as there is nowhere else I can work from. thanks for you advice

  9. rwj says:

    I was a civil servant worked for 36 years but as my skin problem got worst. I could not arrange hospital appointments in the evening like I do with my dental appointments. I was confronted by managers in charge, told me I couldn’t go to hospital appointments on work time. I either had to use my leave or go on my time and work extra hours to pay back, I have never taken liberties at work if fact I have worked past my working day if there was an urgent job, I was bullied and my life at work was hell. I had worry of my appearance, I went out side and peoples reaction to my skin condition made me more self-conscious and nervous. I was thinking of suicide. I was depressed and my GP told me to go on sick leave, I got pay for 6 months and nil pay until I got my termination of my employment letter, the reason being off work long time. I complied with all request for meetings with them and my employers occupational health referral. The reports documented my problems about bulling and unpleasant behaviour regarding my skin illness. I never had any thing in writing from my employer. I did appeal but it was all in house decision. I am over 57 years old and now I am unemployable, they treated me worst then a criminal. There is the employment tribunal but I have been warned the money offered to me would withdrawn if I lost. I could do with advise on my situation. wish I was a banker!

  10. Stressedtothemax says:

    Can anyone help me. I’m working on an entertainment department which I’m almost having to do all the work on my own and it’s really getting me down to the fact I’m stressing out at people and always crying at work. Basically once people left the department they were never replaced. THE department was made bigger and no extra help given. Then one colleague was supposed to come and help. their job role was to do the games and books chrt changes. SAID colleague is either off sick or gets emergency service call outs so is rarely on the department and when he is there he doesn’t pull his weght. SO on top of my never ending jobs list I have to do his also. It’s getting too much and the job is getting harder. I have had numerous conversations with my line manager who just fobs me off with compliments on how I do such a good job. I have asked quite a few times now to come off that department just to be told no I’m not aloud especially near Christmas as they need me to do all the work. said colleague has expressed he doesn’t want to work on it anymore and he is getting moved. How is that fair. SO again I’m going to be on my own trying to do all the jobs. I’m forever being told not to worry about the job not to take the worry home which is easier said than done as whatever I don’t do I know I will have to do the next day as well as my new list. I’M constantly fixing up jobs others should have done. And it’s hard when we have visits from higher up who then ask why havnt I done this and that. Because I don’t get the time. I run around like a blue arse fly all day trying to get everything done. Do I have any rights in moving departments when the job is among me depressed to the max?

  11. Deedee says:

    I had to start an investigation about bullying at work,this took over 4 weeks to conclude,no action was taken,I am now off due to a bad flare up of crohns which has had me in bed for a week my sick note says work related stress,crohns flare up. i know I will walk back into a hostile work force when I return and scared it will flare my crohns up again. Should they be held responsible for this and what do I do?

  12. Dolly says:

    I work for one of the largest banks in the UK, I suffer with fibromalgyia, all I ask for is s more suitable chair to stop me suffering from pain, No one is interested of my health issues, all I get told is, No we Dont have any chairs you Dont have a blue badge, 4 weeks I have been trying to get this sorted, Not alone the Issue with the security with parking my car, . Before I started at this big Bank I suffered with my normal pain, but didn’t hobble , but my spine is in so much pain I cannot walk properly now. No one cares at the biggest bank in the UK. I have spoke to different people, the team leaders and they spoke to the managers who do not know me, who do not care, who said NO , because I Dont look like I have a health issue and they cannot see my pain. So sorry no can do, no chair for you, A simple thing a little comfort to help ease my spine. How sad , I must state I have never in all my years ever been treated like I have at the UK’s largest Bank. We Dont care about you or your pain. Well I won’t stand for this, its outrageous. and its not right to treat people with health issues in this way, Blue badge or not. The Largest Bank. B

  13. Est says:

    Ive been of work three short period due to heavy colds and throat infections and have had a written warning even though caught it from residents in a challenging behavior home. I explained it was due to work but didnt seem to matter even though its health and safty or so i thought . is this fair and right

  14. Pip says:

    My boss at work is a nasty vile man he shouts at us tells us he is our god and orders us to do our job properly or he will sack us. I work as a shoe shop sales assistant. He recently moved shops and ordered us to carry big sacks of boxes of shoes and boots across a busy road into his new shop shouting and telling us to hurry up while he stood and watched. my whole body ached and my back hurt but he didn’t care. When I confronted him he told me to resign and get out his shop. I haven’t resigned and he will not sack me but will not allow me to go back in his shop. Don’t no what to do. Should I get a sick note.

  15. Jay.LB says:

    Does anyone even respond to queries on this site anymore? I came here last year hoping for a resolution to my problem and since June 2016, no one has actually replied to anything on here. I have had no contact through email or seen any solutions on this site. I am speaking on behalf of everyone that has posted on here since my original post. I hope that they are getting some help cause I sure am not.

  16. Hagman777 says:

    Hi can somebody help I work as a security officer in a shopping centre in Kent myself and colleagues constantly have to deal with anti social behaviour mainly from teenagers and school children being sworn at and verbal abuse we have body cameras one day we had a problem. with some kids and I lost my temper and swore on camera now I am being taken to a disciplinary by my employers and the chance of dismissal due to gross misconduct we get no support from our managers also the police are no help at all we are suppposed to get on with it and behave correctly as the customer is always right and I should know better I have asked for specified conflict training from my company even offering to pay for it myself and have heard nothing back training has to be ongoing and relavent to today I can’t remember the last time we had any bottom line is this job is making me I’ll I have just come back to work after two weeks off for job related stress I am at my wits end and feel I have nothing. To look forward to except losing my job and at 61 would I find another with a gross misconduct on my record I don’t know what to do

  17. Worriedworker says:

    Hi i hope someone can help me. I work in a store cafe and we have had no air conditioning for the last two days as its broken. We have had engineers out to look at it but it doesnt seem to be getting fixed. Temperatures in our kitchen have reached as high as 36 degrees and although our boss is supplying us with water, i have became increasingly ill with what i believe is heat stroke. I do have an absence record so was wondering what my rights are in terms of being ill BECAUSE of the air conditioning (being out of my control) is broken. I know there is no legal maximum temperature for working conditions but there must be some rights i have. Any help would be EXTREMELY appreciated. Thank you.

  18. Ceri says:

    I work in a school. Many staff go off sick with coughs, colds, diarrhoea and sickness which they have caught directly from the children they work with. If we have more than the statuary days off sick we are given a warning. Is it acceptable for our work to make us Ill in this instance?

  19. Girl says:

    Hi, I hope someone can help. I work with chemicals in a laboratory. I have developed a chronic migraine with an aura due to insufficient ventilation in my laboratory. My chronic migraine with aura has been continuous since 2016. I raised this concern to my employer who at the time had no COSHH. Since end of 2016, health and safety at work has been improvised and COSHH assessments are present everywhere. I am now stuck in a situation where my chronic migraine with an aura is still really bad as I am taking minimum of 2 working days off sick and also returning home after a few hours at work. My symptoms also include memory issues and high levels of anxiety. My employer is failing to acknowledge that this illness was caused by work not have a COSHH assessment and correct PPE. I have colleagues telling me I am sensitive to chemicals when I have been working for my current employer for nearly 4yrs and this issue started in 2016. Medical consultants have agreed that this illness was caused by work as I was a healthy individual prior to working there. However medical consultants have also said that they will not say this directly if I was to pursue legal action. What do I do?

  20. Jimbo says:

    Hi, I’m wondering if someone can help me. I recenctly got sacked for gross misconduct. I had worked for the componey for nearly 6 years, sadly there was big managerial changes. One of the new managers that came in made my life hell, he made me feel like the devil’s gift and not even capable of buttering bread. Sadly due to the way I was treat by my manager I ended up falling ill and very suicidal. If it wasn’t for my family & mrs I’d probably be gone already. I ended up having around 6 weeks off work due to the diagnosis of depression and anxiety. I went back to work when I felt strong enough, sadly it only took around 1 week before he shot me back down again. After speaking with my GP I was advised to leave the componey, so I handed my notice in. With 2 weeks left of my notice I was working one Saturday morning when this manager came in and gave me s**t. I was so angry that I used the componey fuel card to put £30 of fuel into my car. Which I instantly regretted as the issue was more with the manager and not the componey. I had tried to explain to the componey ( other higher up managers) how he made me feel before I became ill and nothing was done about it. Anyhow it was my mental state of health that caused me to loose sight of what I was doing. Can you advise if I have good enough grounds to appeal.. I know theaft is theaft but I handed them the money back as I am not a criminal or theaft. I was just un-well and lost sight of what I was doing.

  21. Rach says:

    Hi I have just had 4 months signed off sick and have been signed off again for another 3 months. I have fibromyalgia and arthritis in my jaw hands and feet so I’m constantly in pain. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to go back to work so I. Looking for advice as to weather my GP can sign me permanently out of work

  22. Wonbly says:

    Hi can someone help me? I work in a building which is a number of floors high. There is building work including piledriving going on at a site adjacent to my building daily. It is scheduled to last until end of 2018. The work is causing vibrations in my office and in other people’s offices throughout the building. There are a number of us who have been experiencing whole body vibration symptoms such as nausea, headaches, loss of concentration, dizziness. Others do not appear to be affected by the work. We have been told that the level of vibration when measured is within the regulatory standard. But we continue to experience the symptoms, which can last into the evening (similar to the feeling when you get leave a ship and it takes a while to acclimatise back to solid ground). Occ health has not been helpful. What should we expect from our employer? At what point would it be dangerous to our health to continue to work in such an environment? What can we ask our employer to do?

  23. bloke69 says:

    Hi. I developed a serious lung infection last year and had around 14 weeks off work. The lung specialist asked if I’d had any exposure to mould which at the time i couldnt think of any contact. This year at work a manager In staff meetings has said how the place is better in a certain department as there is no mouldy stuff as there was last year.. I was the person who helped cleared that area last year. Where do I stand?

  24. Nelly says:

    I recently suffered a severe kidney infection followed by a collapse due to heat stroke at work during the recent heatwave. In the lead up to my collapse, myself and another colleague complained about the temperature in our rooms which was consistently over 32* because we have floor to ceiling windows that can’t be opened, no airflow due to being at the end of a corridor and no ventilation or air-con. We were advised that the management no longer allowed us with fans when we asked for them even though all other areas of the building have air-conditioning or could open windows. Then, whilst covering another colleague in their workspace which had access to both windows that could open and air-con, I discovered she was also allowed a fan which didn’t make any sense. When I brought this to the attention of managers they did not respond. My doctor thinks that my current ill-health is entirely due to my work conditions. I have been in touch with my Union who have suggested they ask for air-con so that I can go back to work next term. I am very anxious about returning to work for the new management who have such a disregard for their staff well-being and it is making me extremely emotional and anxious. The member of First aid who called the ambulance was told off for doing so by the management even though I was very ill, was kept at the hospital and needed litres of fluid intravenously. I do not want to go back at all. I would really appreciate some advice

  25. Nikki says:

    I’d advise that you go I left my job after 11 years and two managers in there made my life hell – I took a years pay That’s all I can say

  26. Neil says:

    I work for a transport company and last year torn ligaments in my left knee due to moving heavy pallets they have no health and safety in place and no hr department I am now off work with stress and depression due to bad working conditions what can I do

  27. splinter cell says:

    hi guys, i work in a factory that has me doing the dirty/hidden work, i have for over a year had too get rid of waste in a hush hush way that has had an adverse condition on my health, breathing heavy and coughing daily, constantly in and out of doctors for tests and now i have the odd episode of nearly passing out here and there, the worst was driving over a week ago, skin rash daily etc etc and the product/waste we get rid of is dangerous too human and aquatic life, where would i stand in suing this company as

  28. Joanna says:

    I have been injured from working in a factory that started from not been able to reach as they moved it fur the backwards after moving machinery and didn’t bother fixing it and having to lean forward to stretch to do fast repatitve work which really hurt my back but because everyone else on it was tallet they ignored my compliants which led to serious injury amd by the time I was taken off it to do different jobs it was too late and they just made it worse I stuck in agony a chiropractor has scanned my back and says I have problems with nearly my entire back the pain spreads out across my back shoulders trapped nerves in my arms making my hands numb , the occupational health as said that I need a job outside the factory in a different role but don’t have too its wording sounds like they can just dismiss me and I won’t even get sick pay they have injuree left me in pain for months and my life is a misery is there anything I can do

  29. EllaG says:

    Hi, Since last March when the first lockdown was implemented ive been going into the office with two others girls.The rest of the team are working from home and are just refusing to come to the office even thou we are shorted staffed. They have make me do post and scanning, im opening boxes and boxes of post every day all day and them i have to stand at the printer to scan them obviously to supply the people at home with work. I have had mucsle spasma in my shoulders since last year but it got so back now that it in my forearms which are inflamed. My hands dont want grab my forearms litterly feels numb the other day my phone just sliped right out of my hand. I have spoken to my mangers about this but its just falling on deaf ears. Im scarred if refuse to do the work they will get me to leave.

  30. Ellie says:

    Hi anyone can help, work is making me ill. I work nights in a care home, with no breaks and so much to do in do little time,residents not getting to bed until 3 am due to staffing levels. I have had enough.

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