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Summary: Your Health at Work: An Indispensable Guide to Physical and Mental Wellbeing by Becky Allen and Howard Fidderman

In a recent Conference Board workforce survey 34% of respondents reported a decline in their own mental health over the past six months, while 37% feel a decreased sense of belonging. Almost half of these respondents attributed their feelings to workplace-related issues.

With that in mind, this book summary is Your Health at Work by Becky Allen and Howard Fidderman reporting for the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Your Health at Work provides a comprehensive overview of workplace hazards and chronic diseases, focusing on mental and physical health conditions that the workplace generates or aggravates.


If you fear health dangers that lurk on the job, this book is for you. Reporting for the Trades Union Congress (TUC), writers Becky Allen and Howard Fidderman provide a comprehensive overview of workplace hazards and chronic diseases, discussing mental illness and health conditions that the workplace generates or aggravates. Although their focus is the United Kingdom – and although this was written before the COVID-19 pandemic – they offer solutions and ideas for employers and employees worldwide.

Book Summary: Your Health at Work - An Indispensable Guide to Physical and Mental Wellbeing


  • Mental health is a crucial workplace issue.
  • Workplace bullies pose health risks.
  • Cancer is a workplace danger.
  • Back injuries and repetitive stress ailments affect millions.
  • Disabled employees have workplace rights.
  • The workforce is aging and faces chronic health conditions.

Mental health is a crucial workplace issue.

In 2017, an independent review panel published crucial findings about mental health in the workplace. On an annual basis, mental illness costs the United Kingdom’s economy £74 billion to £99 billion (roughly $92 billion to $123 billion), with companies shouldering £33 billion to £42 billion of those costs.

Nearly 17% of adults – one in six – live with a mental health disorder, according to the UK Department of Health. Those conditions include depression, suicidal thoughts, bipolar conditions, eating and sleep disorders, loneliness, stress, anxiety attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

“For the government and bodies that enforce health and safety at work…the emphasis had traditionally been on…physical health.”

Three decades ago, most employees who experienced mental health disorders had little or no expectation of workplace assistance. In the modern workplace, health and safety programs include mental health wellness initiatives and suicide prevention. Labor unions, mental health advocates and health care experts have led the push to recognize the links between work and mental health.

The 2017 review panel established certain mental health standards for the workplace. The panel advocated that employers should:

  • Develop strategic plans for supporting employees’ mental well-being. Employers should share details with employees during interviews before they are hired and periodically throughout the course of their employment.
  • Generate awareness about mental health in the workforce.
  • Nurture a healthy work-home balance.
  • Provide opportunities for regular conversations between employees and supervisors.

Most people are reluctant to acknowledge mental illness or related conditions. Employees may fear embarrassment and discrimination. However, quick action in the face of emerging issues improves the outcome and hastens employee recovery.

“[Employees can] support their own mental health by reflecting on the causes of stress and poor mental health, and by taking ownership of practical steps to help address these triggers.”

The following steps provide valuable help for those facing mental health crises:

  • Check in with your primary care physician. Your doctor may make a referral to a mental health specialist.
  • Contact workplace advocates: co-workers, managers or union leadership.
  • Review regulations and human resources policies for details about protections, accommodations and other benefits.

Guard your health by taking preventive steps to reduce stress and emotional distress. Those steps include managing your time and setting well-defined boundaries between your personal life and work duties. Schedule regular breaks during the day, and use your allocated vacation time. Other preventive measures include:

  • Follow a regular exercise routine – This helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Identify your stress triggers – Track and recognize the conflicts, demands and situations that harm your mental health.
  • Stay present – Mindfulness can help prevent depression.
  • Cultivate hobbies and nurture connections – Participation in hobbies, clubs and community events helps promote and sustain mental health and well-being.
  • Develop a support network, at work or at home – This is especially important if you are the caretaker for a relative, friend or child. Seek mental health resources in your community or workplace, including employee assistance programs (EAPs). Share your fears and stressors with a friend or partner.

Workplace bullies pose health risks.

Harassment that stems from bullying can include abusive behavior or language that the bully uses with the intention to humiliate, hurt, undercut or demoralize another person. Such harassment also can take the form of cyberbullying, which involves abusive behavior via email, social media, and other digital or electronic platforms.

“Compared with more traditional workplace bullying, the evidence [of cyberbullying] may be easier to record and trail back to the perpetrator.”

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) finds that workplace bullies typically outrank their targets. A government poll reported that managers committed nearly three-quarters of all cases of harassment or bullying. Roughly 30% of workers reported bullying during the work day, and 36% have left jobs after episodes of bullying. Harassment links to specific ailments and health risks, including migraines, headaches, nausea, vomiting, sleep disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), thoughts of suicide, panic attacks, and abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other substances.

Government and workplace experts say victims can address a bullying or harassment situation by taking these steps:

  • Create a log of the dates, times, places and other details documenting the harassment.
  • Share your experience with a friend or a trusted co-worker.
  • Consult with a union official or labor representative.
  • Reach out to a helpline, a government agency or health officials.
  • Make an appointment with your employer’s HR leaders.

Cancer is a workplace danger.

Globally, approximately 666,000 people die annually from cancers that relate to the workplace. In the United Kingdom, occupational cancers kill 8,000 workers annually. The list of cancer-causing factors in the workplace include diesel fumes, asbestos and silica dust.

Female employees who work the night shift face increased risk of skin, breast and digestive cancers. Regular nightshift assignments contribute to a variety of health problems for both men and women, including high stress levels, heart disease, digestive disorders, high blood pressures and an increased risk in accidents.

“As well as controlling exposure, employers have a legal duty to carry out appropriate health surveillance of workers exposed to certain substances.”

Employers have a legal obligation to protect the health of workers on the job. Under the United Kingdom’s Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), employers must carry out workplace health evaluations, including assessments of workplace cancer risks. Regulations require that employers periodically monitor the health of workers whose jobs expose them to different chemicals. Employees with certain cancers that link to workplace hazards may qualify for benefits and compensation.

Back injuries and repetitive stress ailments affect millions.

In clinical terms, aching backs, neck pain and repetitive stress injuries are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), a category that also includes painful joint and muscle injuries. Those conditions affect millions of workers worldwide and 17% of the population in England. In the UK, disorders in this category that link to the workplace are top contributors to poor workplace health:

  • Approximately 500,000 UK workers suffered a bad back or repetitive stress injury linked to the workplace in 2016 and 2017.
  • MSDs led workers to take a combined total of nearly 31 million sick days in 2016.
  • Back, joint and muscle injuries accounted for two of every 10 sick days. In 2016, only sick days that employees took due to coughs, colds and other minor illnesses surpassed this rate.

The European Trade Union Confederation has declared an epidemic of back, muscle and joint injuries. In making that declaration, the labor group also lobbied the European Union to do more about the musculoskeletal injuries that diminish quality of life for so many workers.

The workplace, sadly, offers myriad scenarios, conditions and situations where people can hurt their back, legs, neck, joints and arms. For example, handling and lifting heavy objects can lead to injuries or aggravate existing injuries. Repetitive movements or poorly constructed computer workstations contribute to stress injuries. Few industries remain immune from this broad category of workplace injuries, which can befall workers on farms and construction sites, as well as in hospitals and standard offices.

“When you are off work for a significant period of time, the kind of treatment and support you have early on can make a big difference to getting back to work successfully.”

Prevention is crucial to minimizing existing injuries or avoiding serious harm in the workplace. Employers face a legal obligation to promote and provide a safe workplace. A coalition of corporate executives, workers and medical experts can create best practices, risk-evaluation tools and training programs to prevent workplace injuries.

Employees are responsible for self-care in the workplace. For that purpose, it’s important to take regular breaks during the workday. During those breaks, stand up, stretch and walk around. Injury prevention measures include:

  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and excess weight gain.
  • Remain active and set a weekly goal of 150 minutes of exercise.
  • Get adequate sunlight and vitamin D.
  • Guard your mental health.
  • Speak to your managers or union representatives about tasks or work assignments that generate physical pain.

Disabled employees have workplace rights.

In 2017, the UK developed and published a new plan to expand workplace opportunities and protections for disabled employees. That initiative followed the Equality Act of 2010, which provided antidiscrimination protection to disabled individuals.

The class of protected individuals includes those with a mental or physical disability, cancer or an HIV diagnosis. The act also covers workers with certain chronic health conditions, such as migraines and epilepsy. The Equality Act provided six scenarios detailing the types of discrimination that are sometimes leveled against disabled workers:

  1. Direct bias – Under this form of discrimination, disabled workers receive worse treatment than able-bodied workers in similar work situations.
  2. Indirect bias – This involves policies and procedures that have a harsher impact on disabled workers relative to their able-bodied peers.
  3. Lack of accommodations – Employers must make “reasonable” accommodations designed to help disabled employees in the workplace.
  4. Bias that relates to disability – This form of discrimination occurs when a worker receives poor treatment because of accommodations or other factors, such as medically related time-off requests, that link directly to a disability.
  5. Bullying or harassment – This form of discrimination manifests as abuse, humiliation or degradation.
  6. Victimization – This form of discrimination often appears in the form of retaliation against those who filed complaints.

The workforce is aging and faces chronic health conditions.

An aging workforce is one of the top trends in public health and the workplace. In 2018, the number of workers older than 50 exceeded 10 million in the UK for the first time. Those numbers indicate that 33% of the UK workforce was older than 50 in 2018, compared to just 20% during the early 1990s. Additionally, life expectancy has increased as the birth rate has fallen. Given those trends, health experts say that workplaces have to become more accepting of aging employees.

Older workers’ wisdom and experience are invaluable to employers. Unfortunately, many unflattering stereotypes about aging, health and employability continue to circulate in the workplace. For example, according to one myth, older workers are more likely to call in sick. The truth: Older workers do not claim more sick days than younger workers. Medical and labor experts offer a variety of recommendations for companies that want to accommodate and integrate older workers:

  • Institute flexible schedules, with part-time options and work-from-home accommodations.
  • Conduct risk assessments of the workplace environment for older workers.
  • Provide equal access to training and education.

Chronic illnesses are common, with many workers suffering from diabetes, migraines, cardiovascular disease, epilepsy, chronic pain, brain injuries and other conditions. The level of support your employer provides can help you manage a chronic condition at work.

About the Author

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is a federation of 50 workers’ unions in the United Kingdom, representing approximately 5.6 million members. Becky Allen and Howard Fidderman are freelance writers.


Industrial Health and Safety, Science and Technology, Engineering, Industrial Engineering and Materials Science, Transportation

Table of Contents

Chapter – 00: Introduction;

Section – ONE: Mental Health and Wellbeing;
Chapter – 01: Safeguarding Mental Health;
Chapter – 02: Redressing Stress;
Chapter – 03: Bullying at the Workplace and Beyond;
Chapter – 04: Suicide;

Section – TWO: Physical Health;
Chapter – 05: Occupational Cancers and Hazardous & Dangerous Substances;
Chapter – 06: Musculoskeletal Disorders;
Chapter – 07: Disability Discrimination and Reasonable Adjustments;
Chapter – 08: Physical Health for an Ageing Workforce;
Chapter – 09: Working Time;
Chapter – 10: Night and Shift Work;
Chapter – 11: Physical Wellbeing and Health Initiatives;
Chapter – 12: Access to Occupational Health Advice;

Section – THREE: Health and Wellbeing for Specific Groups;
Chapter – 13: New Ways of Working;
Chapter – 14: Young or Inexperienced workers and apprentices;
Chapter – 15: Accommodating Specific Conditions;
Chapter – 16: Migrant Workers;
Chapter – 17: Violence and Abuse;
Chapter – 18: Gender and Transgender Issues;

Section – FOUR: Legal Rights and Expectations;
Chapter – 19: Realising Your Rights


The book is a practical guide that aims to help readers improve their physical and mental wellbeing at work. It is written by two freelance writers who have collaborated with the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the UK’s largest federation of trade unions, to provide reliable and relevant information and advice. The book consists of four parts:

  • Part I: Your Health at Work. This part introduces the concept of health at work, and explains why it is important for workers and employers to promote a healthy and safe working environment. It also outlines the legal rights and responsibilities of workers and employers regarding health and safety issues, and provides some useful resources and contacts for further support.
  • Part II: Your Physical Health at Work. This part covers the most common physical health risks at work, such as aches and strains, hazardous substances, accidents, noise, vibration, temperature, lighting, and radiation. It explains how these risks can affect workers’ health, and what measures can be taken to prevent or reduce them. It also offers some tips and exercises to help workers improve their posture, fitness, nutrition, hydration, sleep, and hygiene.
  • Part III: Your Mental Health at Work. This part covers the most common mental health risks at work, such as stress, anxiety, depression, bullying, harassment, discrimination, violence, and trauma. It explains how these risks can affect workers’ mental health, and what strategies can be used to cope with them. It also offers some advice and exercises to help workers enhance their resilience, confidence, self-esteem, communication, and relationships.
  • Part IV: Your Health Beyond Work. This part helps readers apply the lessons learned from the previous parts to their personal and professional lives. It covers topics such as work-life balance, career development, retirement planning, volunteering, and lifelong learning. It also encourages readers to share their experiences and insights with others who may benefit from them.

The book is a comprehensive and helpful resource for anyone who wants to improve their health at work or learn more about it. The authors are both experienced writers who have researched extensively on the topic of health at work. They write in a clear, concise, and engaging tone that makes the book easy to read and understand. They also use real-life examples, case studies, statistics, and quotes from experts and workers to illustrate their points and provide evidence for their claims.

The book is well-structured and organized, with each chapter having a clear objective, key points, action steps, and reflection questions. The book also provides a variety of tools and activities that readers can use to assess their health at work level, identify their health at work goals, plan their health at work actions, monitor their health at work progress, and evaluate their health at work outcomes. The book is interactive and encourages readers to actively participate in their own learning and improvement.

The book is not only informative but also inspiring and empowering. It helps readers understand the causes and consequences of poor health at work, and provides them with effective solutions to improve it. It also helps readers recognize their strengths, achievements, and potential, and develop a sense of wellbeing and satisfaction. It motivates readers to pursue their aspirations, seek opportunities, and achieve their goals. It also urges readers to share their stories with others who may need them.

Overall, I think the book is a valuable addition to the literature on health at work and self-development. It is suitable for anyone who wants to improve their health at work or learn more about it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this topic.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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