Bring in the diet police: new report wants council inspectors to monitor what we eat at work
Report wants employers and councils to take charge of workers’ health in bid to save hundreds of millions of pounds of a year
• Employers should take responsibility for workers’ health and wellbeing
• NHS should bring services into the workplace
• New polling shows public expect more from their employers
A new report by the influential think-tank, 2020Health, urges local authorities to expand the role of health and safety inspectors to include advising on the diet and exercise of private sector employees.
The proposal is one of a range of recommendations set out in the report, which aims to complement the government’s recent announcements on getting the sick back to work. Earlier this month the government’s independent review of sickness absence made a series of recommendations, including independent assessment of sickness claims and the introduction of a privately funded insurance scheme to pick up the tab when an employee is on long-term sick leave.
The report, Working Together, identifies the 1.5 million welfare recipients who have been claiming for five or more years, and says that the government cannot afford to separate employment from health issues. Introducing the report, 2020Health Chief Executive, Julia Manning, says:
“The importance of health to economies is well established. Good health improves educational outcomes, enhances performance at work, increases savings rates and reduces the burden on the public purse by decreasing the demand for health services and benefits payments. The impact of health on work is of profound economic relevance.
“Having a local authority take more of an interest in the health of employees is one of the recommendations we have made, and it has the potential to establish a link between the workplace, the economy and the public health agenda.”
The report argues that Britain is failing to break the cycle that leads from ill health to unemployment.
Polling commissioned for the report reveals that 73 per cent of people believe employers have a responsibility to promote good health among their employees. Commenting on the findings, Mrs Manning said:
“It is clear from our polling that the British workforce overwhelmingly expects employers to take the health of their workers seriously, and our report offers a number of practical steps that would promote exactly this.”
Comparing the UK’s position to that of Scandinavia, the report offers a damning indictment of the “sick note culture” that has taken hold. In Scandinavia half of those who suffer a major injury return to work, compared with just 1 in 6 in the UK. According to Mrs Manning, this “is a further indicator of the UK’s historic failure to promote work as a health outcome.”
The report also looks at the high number of work days lost in the UK economy due to sickness and ill health.
At any one time, 3 per cent of the active workforce is off sick, with 175 million working days lost each year due to ill health. The NHS alone, Europe’s largest employer, has estimated that it could save 3.4 million working days annually if it improved workforce health.
The NHS loses £555 million per year due to staff sickness, while the total cost to the UK’s economy is estimate as over £100 billion.
Mrs Manning says:
“Our report looks at two problems; long-term absence from work and the economic costs of general sick days. Our proposals would go a long way towards repairing both the nation’s health and its economic fortunes.”
Report recommendations include:
• Expanding the role of local authority health and safety inspectors to provide information on employee health, such as diet, the importance of exercise and advice on workstations. Similar programmes have been trialled in Warwick.
• Increasing the use of home-based working for those recovering from ill health.
• Bringing health services provided by the NHS into the workplace. For example, cardiac and cancer screening and the NHS Health Check are examples of services that could be provided at work.
• Allowing people to register with health services that are close to their workplace. (A policy supported by 70% of people according to the report’s polling).
• Urging local authorities to build health provision into the commissioning process, so that supplier firms that invest in workforce health are favoured when contracts are awarded.
Polling methodology: ComRes interviewed 2012 GB adults online between 16th and 18th September 2011. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules (www.britishpollingcouncil.org).