Link between health problems and workplace injury

If you have an employee with a serious health condition, or who is taking medication, could they be a risk to themselves or others? A recently published study may hold the answers.


The study, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is called “The role of health problems and drug treatments in accidental injury at work” (see The next step ).

It examines the potential safety problems which may arise due to the side-effects of prescription medicines, such as drowsiness or lack of concentration.


The researchers analysed 8,000 medical records which covered up to 20 years of medical consultations for each individual. Within these they identified any serious health concerns and prescribed medications with known side-effects. They then looked for a statistical correlation with any serious accidents which affected the patients, such as fractures and amputations. Within the 8,000 record sets, only 1,348 included health issues of interest. The remaining 6,652 acted as a control group for comparison purposes.

What were the findings?

It was discovered that there was a small increase of risk with all forms of mental illness. Additionally, when psychotropic medications were prescribed as treatment, there was an increased risk of workplace injury to this group of between 40% and 60%. It was found that hearing and vision problems carried an increased risk of accidents of between 30% and 60%, whilst vertigo and other balance issues increased the risk of injury by 80%. Those with epilepsy and diabetes were not found to be at any increased risk of injury, though researchers concluded that this was most likely to be due to the caution already implemented by employers in these cases. One example is those suffering from seizures are excluded from working at height.

What to do?

The findings showed that there is an increased risk of injury to many of those suffering from long-term ill health and that employers need to do more.

Tip 1. Some instructions for medicines specifically state that the user should not drive or operate machinery. Similarly some health conditions cause tiredness or reduce physical ability. Make it a requirement within your terms and conditions of employment that employees must inform their manager of such health concerns to enable the risks to be managed.

Tip 2. Avoid jumping to conclusions about restrictions which need to be placed on individuals for their safety. This could lead to inadvertent discrimination.

Tip 3. Assess the risk of each case individually. In most circumstances you’ll need input from the employee, an occupational health specialist and an HR professional (see The next step ).

Tip 4. If the employee has been off work and is due to return, involve them in developing a return to work plan. If discussions are inconclusive you may need to test out tasks under safe conditions.

The study showed that there are links between common health problems, certain medications and workplace injuries. Ensure that your employment terms and conditions require employees to declare potential problems, assess each case individually and involve occupational health and HR specialists where appropriate.

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