The government, at the launch of the Public Health Responsibility Deal in March this year, made clear the importance of the contribution that business in the UK can make in helping us achieve our public health goals. In the foreword to the report the Secretary of State for Health spelt out the impact on the NHS’s annual direct costs of physical inactivity, alcohol misuse and obesity – some £8.7 billion – with additional significant costs too for workers, employers and wider society.
Key to the success of this initiative will be organisations from all sectors and of all sizes signing up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal and their work in support of the five core commitments in relation to their customers and staff:

1. We recognise that we have a vital role to play in improving people’s health.
2. We will encourage and enable people to adopt a healthier diet.
3. We will foster a culture of responsible drinking, which will help people to drink within guidelines.
4. We will encourage and assist people to become more physically
5. We will actively support our workforce to lead healthier lives.

‘Workforce health’ signatories have been asked to sign up to a number of pledges aimed at encouraging workers to lead healthier lives including reporting annually, and publicly, on their employee’s health and wellbeing and detailing employee sickness absence rates. Signatories have also been asked to commit to basic measures for encouraging healthier staff restaurants and vending outlets.

For the last eleven years the spotlight on health and safety performance in Great Britain has, from time to time, shone more brightly on the causes and consequences of work-related ill health than anytime previously. But that momentum has been hard to maintain despite us better understanding the debilitating and costly consequence of failing to tackle work-related ill health and chronic conditions affecting workers in their workplaces.

Almost one–in-fifty workers reported a work-related illness in 2009/10. Some of these illnesses will be attributable to chronic conditions.

As part of the pledge employers are being asked to embed the principles of the chronic conditions guides within their HR procedures to ensure that those with chronic conditions at work are managed in the best way possible with the necessary flexibilities and workplace adjustments.

Chronic conditions as asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes do not necessarily have to mean employees stopping work. Guidance recently published on the NHS choices website is aimed at line managers and contains helpful advice on supporting employees with long term medical conditions. Guidance has also been published aimed at employees with advice on coping at work when you have a chronic medical condition. Both guides contain useful sources of advice and information on particular chronic conditions. The advice is practical and common sense and designed to help employees and their managers make informed choices about their health. The British Safety Council is pleased to be supporting this important initiative.