By Daniel Hunter
More than a quarter of the UK's workforce (27%) - a staggering eight million people - have had a health problem that's lasted more than a year, according to the new Health at Work Index created for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) by Cebr.
With nearly one in six of these health problems (15.7%) relating to heart and circulation, the BHF is calling for the nation's employers to champion the health of their workers. The risk of developing many problems picked up in the report, such coronary heart disease, can be greatly reduced by losing weight, increasing physical activity and eating a balanced diet.
The index has been launched to give the most up to date picture of the health problems that are blighting the nation's workforce based on the physical health, mental wellbeing and working hours of more than 185,000 UK employees.
It shows that one in ten workers (11.7%) - approximately 3.5 million people - say their ability to do their job is limited by poor health. This includes over half of diabetes sufferers (58%) and the same number of people suffering from depression, mental illness or panic attacks (58%).
The transport and storage sector, which includes jobs in warehousing and logistics, is revealed as the sector with the highest proportion of workers reporting a serious health problem.
Through its free Health at Work programme, the BHF works with employers to help create health and wellbeing initiatives that can improve the health and productivity of their workforce. The scheme includes free tools and resources employers can use to encourage their workers to get active, eat well and reduce their stress. More than 7,000 organisations have already benefited from the programme.
Lisa Purcell, Project Manager for the BHF's Health at Work programme, said: "This research reveals the true health of the UK's workforce, and the results are shocking. But there is something that can be done.
"By shining a light on the health of workers in a range of industries, we hope to inspire employers to champion the wellbeing of their workers. This will ultimately benefit the health of their business in the long-run.
"Poor health can lead to more sick days, lower morale and less productivity. So it's not just your workforce that will benefit from a health kick, but your company's bottom line will get a boost too."
HITEK, a small electronic material distributor in Scunthorpe, has worked with the BHF to implement a health and wellbeing programme over the last three years. The programme now includes workplace support for giving up smoking, an annual pedometer challenge and healthy eating and exercise sessions.
Jim Lawton, Managing Director at HITEK, said: "We started our health and wellbeing programme because we value our employees and want them to be happy at work. The response has been fantastic. All 22 of our employees have taken steps to improve their health since it launched. Many of our smokers have managed to quit, and our employees feel empowered to do more exercise and eat a healthier diet as a result of the free health programmes we offer.
"This is also of huge benefit to the business. The activities bring people together, and there is a supportive, productive atmosphere across the office. Workplace health is an easy thing to put off. But my advice to other small business owners is to make their Health at Work programme a priority. At HITEK, we've realised that helping our employees stay healthy is a vital ingredient in our success."
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