The food and drink industry has welcomed calls for a radical reform of work-related health services after a government-sponsored review indicated illness was costing Britain £100bn a year.
Dame Carol Black, the national director for health and work, said 'urgent and comprehensive' reform was needed to ensure employers provided a healthy workplace for staff.
The £100bn cost was more than the entire budget of the NHS, she added. About £12bn of that came in direct payouts from the Treasury as incapacity benefit; the rest was made up through the cost of treatment and lost earning power.
Black said the key challenge presented in her review, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow, was the need for good work-related health support, especially in the early stages of sickness. She said provision of this help was disproportionately concentrated among a few large employers.
She also called for a reform of the sick note process that would include replacing doctors' paper-based notes with an electronic "fit note", stating what people could do, not what they couldn't.
Food and Drink Federation director of communications Julian Hunt praised the report's message. "We welcome the publication of new research proving there is a business case for investing in workplace wellbeing schemes that move beyond the traditional health and safety agenda," he said. "Given the efforts of our industry in this area, we applaud the fact this report highlights the positive role that can be played by employers."
Efforts by the industry to reduce workplace injuries, through its Recipe for Safety initiative, had already resulted in a 37% fall in the total injury rate since 1990, he said.
Doug Russell, health and safety officer at Usdaw, said: "The basic message of the report, that good work is good for your health, is sound. Employers need to make sure workplaces are healthy and safe, as well as help to get people back to work when they're ill."