Work and Health - An important but often neglected relationship in public health reporting

Working life can act as a risk factor for the health of employees and their families. However, there is also an inverse effect as an individual?s state of health can have a tremendous impact on work. Private companies as well as public services are affected by diseases through employee absenteeism or reduced productivity, irrespective of the cause of the disease. Workplace health is therefore a public health issue as well.

Health reporting is regarded as a suitable instrument to point to priority fields in public health policy and considerable efforts have been undertaken in the European Union to establish a health monitoring system at European level. However, up to now working life issues have played only a minor role in traditional public health monitoring schemes. Existing monitoring systems from the occupational health and safety perspective usually focus on "traditional" aspects such as occupational diseases and work accidents.

Against this backdrop, the WORKHEALTH project was started in 2002 - funded by the European Commission and co-ordinated by the Federal Association of Company Health Insurance Funds, Germany (BKK Bundesverband). The first phase of the project was devoted to the establishment of indicators that can be used in a future work-related health monitoring system to adequately reflect the impact of work on public health. A second phase of the project was carried out to compile a first European work-related public health report which reflects the impact of work on public health in Europe. For this report cardiovascular diseases and mental ill health were selected because these diseases put a major sickness burden on European workers, economies and social security systems.

Co-operating partners in WORKHEALTH are experts from public health sciences as well as experts representing the field of occupational health and safety, labour inspectorates and social insurance institutions. The consortium emphasizes that sustainable health promotion and prevention calls for collaboration across different professions and policy fields.