What if Work Makes You Ill?

Nobody should let their job adversely affect their health, but it’s a sad fact that in Britain many people are still becoming ill because of their work.

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

According to the trade unions more than two and a half million people are made ill by their job every year, with more than 28 million working days lost due to sickness caused or made worse by work.

Whatever the symptoms or causes of workplace sickness, you have the legal right to be kept safe and healthy by employers and should never have to work with equipment or substances that could endanger your health.

How Can Work Make You ill?

There are many ways that your workplace can make you ill and a host of different medical conditions can be caused or exacerbated by problems at work.

Everything from serious accidents to poor lifting techniques can have an adverse impact on your health but the good news is that most of the factors that cause workplace illnesses are entirely 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, even though your employer has a legal duty to keep you safe.

Because you spend so much time at work this can be a huge area, but here are a few of the most common conditions faced by British workers:


As many as 3,000 workers develop occupational asthma each year, while 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 irreversibly 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 consideration 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 rehabilitation required 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 fist 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 comply with any rules set out by your employer, such as wearing protective equipment and following safety instructions.

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