The UK, along with other nations is experiencing a rapid growth in obesity, brought on by the increasing consumption of high calorie foods and reducing levels of exercise. Apart from the general health risks, for example cardiovascular problems, increased levels of diabetes and musculoskeletal disorders, there are also implications for health and safety at work. Obese workers are likely to encounter difficulties at work, for example in use of equipment, seating, additional health risks from strenuous activity, fatigue and so on.
Obesity in the population is a concern of Government and is the subject of an OST Foresight programme. In terms of the impact on the workplace we may note reports that a major retailer is introducing working practices that will deter overweight people from applying for jobs in its stores. It was suggested that a culture change to promote health and tackle obesity would reduce absenteeism and improve efficiency.
If such practices are adopted and increasingly used, then overweight people may have increasing difficulties accessing the labour market. This may in turn affect progress towards DWP employment and incapacity benefit targets. There may be calls for adaptations to the workplace to offset this, as well as other practical steps.
- Employers might be expected or required to take responsibility for encouraging or assisting staff to avoid or reduce obesity? Will the choice of food in the staff canteen become a health and safety issue? The recent DWP/DH/HSE strategy ‘Health, work and well-being – Caring for our future’ states that ‘The workplace is a setting that should support healthy food choices for staff (and visitors).’
- Employers may need to take special account of obese workers in work design and risk assessments.