• International Workplace
  • 26 September 2017

Employers are responsible for worker health, says Public Health England

A new initiative has been launched to support small businesses in improving work health to create a healthy economy.

A healthy population is the engine of a healthy economy, said Public Health England’s (PHE) Chief Executive, speaking at the opening of PHE’s annual conference. Duncan Selbie said we must look further than the NHS if we are to ensure everyone has a fair chance of good health.

Illness among working age people costs the UK economy £100bn a year. About 330,000 people every year become unemployed because of health-related issues. But workplace health and wellbeing programmes such as exercise, healthy eating and stop-smoking support can make a real difference. Successful programmes such as these have been found to return £2 to £10 for every £1 spent, benefiting staff wellbeing and economic productivity.

PHE believes that, while a number of big employers already have some plans in place that help to improve and protect their staff’s health, many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) do not currently benefit from such programmes.

PHE and Healthy Working Futures, a workplace health provider, have set out advice for SMEs, which account for 60% of private sector employment. It gives SMEs a series of questions on health and wellbeing, including smoking, fitness and sleep, which staff can answer anonymously, enabling them to assess the specific needs of their workforce and create tailored steps to improve their staff’s health and wellbeing, based on evidence.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has also published new guidelines on how businesses can improve their workers’ health, with advice on physical and mental health.

Alongside Business in the Community, PHE has also created a series of guidance for employers on important issues, such as musculoskeletal (MSK) and mental health, impacting on employees. Further advice is being developed covering issues including:

  • physical activity;
  • diet and weight;
  • drugs;
  • alcohol; and
  • tobacco.

Duncan Selbie, PHE Chief Executive, said:

“Work is the key to a long, happy and healthy life. But sickness absence and tackling early retirement due to ill health are still major challenges for the economy. This new package of support for small businesses will help businesses improve the health of their staff.

“We can no longer see the health service as the only solution to our ills. We’ve got individual responsibility, and so do employers. Keeping people healthy not only benefits the individual but also benefits the economy and the local community.

“We must do more to improve health outcomes, and in turn the health and economic productivity of the country. I urge employers to take advantage of this support.”

Mike Cherry, Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said:

“Improved wellbeing benefits individual businesses. But more than that, it helps the wider economy, government and public services, as well as the local communities where small businesses play such an important role. There’s never going to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach and not every idea will work for every business – that’s why we’re very pleased to be working with Public Health England in particular to help smaller businesses and the self-employed.”