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Please speak up: encouraging employees to flag up health problems

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Early intervention is critical in preventing common ill-health conditions, such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and stress, from becoming chronically disabling. But a whole raft of cultural and organisational barriers mean that too many UK workers are still failing to flag problems - whether or not they are caused by their jobs - until they can no longer work.

'If they felt they could report early, it would make a huge difference,' says Dr Dil Sen, acting head of the HSE's corporate medical unit. 'There is good evidence that if you tackle these illnesses early, you keep people in work and get people back to work quicker.'

Above all, encouraging self-reporting of ill health is about breaking down barriers. To get people to come forward, you have to acknowledge and dispel people's fears - for their jobs and for their futures - and make sure you deliver an effective response.

Culture Clash
Without access to occupational health (OH) professionals, workers' ability to discuss ill-health issues is severely limited, says Sen.

'The first obstacle to overcome is the fear factor,' he notes. 'Most employees are not going to put up their hands and say: 'I've got a [health] problem related to work.' The majority - those without access to OH - will not report to the employer. This is big hurdle and is a cultural issue.'

In the UK, most people's first port of call will be their GP, who generally knows little about OH and lacks the necessary communication links with employers.

Professor Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser for the manufacturers' organisation EEF, points out that most ill-health conditions, including the majority of MSDs and stress-related illnesses, are not caused by work. But just like work-related ill health, they can affect performance or attendance at work and employers may need to make appropriate adjustments.

To read the remainder of this article please go to Health and Safety Professional
http://www.healthandsafetyprofessional.co.uk/file/eb70ab600f3b269f120ff1fe5673e367/please-speak-up-november-2007.html = Please speak up

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