Keoghs Insight


Steve Gowland

Looking to the future: Trends in Disease


When you consider the term ‘Occupational Disease’ what comes to your mind first?

  • Noise Induced Hearing Loss
  • Vibration White Finger
  • Asbestos related claims
  • Stress at work?

In this update we look at recent developments which have caught press attention regarding working long hours in the office and alleged links between breast cancer and night shift work.  Employers and insurers should remain alive to the ever growing definition of occupational illness and the risk new and developing work place injuries may bring.

Employers fuming?  

Working in an office is as bad as smoking study suggests

A study published in the Lancet has recommended office workers should exercise for an hour a day to combat the ‘deadly’ risk to health associated with working life in the modern world.

Sitting for at least 8 hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60% with sedentary lifestyles and associated increase in obesity posing a greater threat than smoking.

Recommendations include workers who spend several hours a day at their desk changing routine with five minute breaks every hour, with exercise at lunchtimes and evenings.  An hour of brisk walking or cycling spread over a day was enough to combat the risks of eight hours sat at a desk the study suggests.  

A starting point for guidance on Health and Safety law is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.  The Act sets out the duties employers have in relation to employees and members of the public.  

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 go further and set out what employers are required to do in relation to every work activity.  Employers are under a duty to control and properly assess risks to employees health and provide training and health surveillance, where appropriate.  These duties also extend to home workers where equipment is supplied by the employer.  

The survey highlights the importance to employers and insurers of the necessity to undertake a deeper and more detailed look at risk assessments and that employee safety is properly addressed to reflect work in the modern world.  

No link between breast cancer and night shift work

A recent review published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has concluded working night shifts has little or no impact on women’s risk of breast cancer.

The World Health Organisation published a review in 2007 which concluded night shift workers were at an increased risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer.

Concerns had been raised that working at night disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, or 24 hour clock, which controls physical, mental and behavioural changes that occur over the period.  The rhythm is believed to respond to changes to light and dark in the environment.

The review included research analysis from 522,246 subjects, including 251,045 from the UK Biobank. The participants provided information regarding work patterns and were followed up with checks on the incidence of breast cancer.

The survey showed women who worked at night were in fact at no higher risk of the disease.