Self-reported work-related health problems and risk factors - key statistics

Data extracted in June 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: 2022 (when the next adhoc module appears)

This article presents main statistical results concerning work-related health problems and risk factors for people at work in the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The data were collected within the framework of ad hoc modules that are linked to the EU labour force survey (EU-LFS) and cover people aged 15 to 64.

Data included in this article complements other health and safety at work data from the same EU LFS ad hoc module on self-reported accidents at work, and data on fatal and non-fatal accidents at work from the administrative data collection European Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW)).

Figure 1: Proportion of persons
(aged 15-64) reporting work-related health problems, 2007 and 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_pb1)
Figure 2: Distribution of persons
(aged 15-64) reporting work-related health problems, by length of absence and limitations of daily activities, EU-28, 2007 and 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_pb3) and (hsw_pb4)
Figure 3: Distribution of persons
(aged 15-64) reporting work-related health problems by type of problem, EU-28, 2007 and 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_pb5)
Figure 4: Proportion of persons
(aged 15-64) reporting work-related health problems, by sex, EU-28, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_pb1)
Figure 5: Proportion of employed persons
(aged 15-64) reporting work-related health problems, by sex, EU-28, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_pb7), (hsw_pb8) and (hsw_pb10)
Figure 6: Proportion of employed persons
(aged 15-64) reporting work-related health problems, by activity, EU-28, 2007 and 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_pb6a) and (hsw_pb6b)
Table 1: Proportion of employed persons
(aged 15-64) reporting work-related health problems, by activity, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_pb6b)
Figure 7: Proportion of persons
(aged 15-64) reporting exposure to risk factors for mental well-being, 2007 and 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_exp1)
Figure 8: Proportion of persons
(aged 15-64) reporting exposure to risk factors for physical health, 2007 and 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_exp2)
Figure 9: Proportion of persons
(aged 15-64) reporting exposure to specified risk factors for mental well-being and physical health, by sex, EU-28, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_exp3) and (hsw_exp4)
Figure 10: Proportion of persons
(aged 15-64) reporting exposure to risk factors for mental well-being and physical health, by sex, EU-28, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_exp1) and (hsw_exp2)
Figure 11: Proportion of employed persons
(aged 15-64) reporting exposure to risk factors for mental well-being, by activity, EU-28, 2007 and 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_exp5a) and (hsw_exp5b)
Figure 12: Proportion of employed persons
(aged 15-64) reporting exposure to risk factors for physical health, by activity, EU-28, 2007 and 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_exp6a) and (hsw_exp6b)
Table 2: Proportion of employed persons
(aged 15-64) reporting exposure to risk factors for mental well-being and physical health, by activity, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (hsw_exp5b) and (hsw_exp6b)

Main statistical findings

Prevalence of work-related health problems

In 2013, the proportion of people in the EU-28 who reported having had work-related health problems during the previous 12 months was 7.9 %, substantially less than the 12.8 % share reported in 2007 (see Figure 1); note that these figures relate to the share of the population who had worked (ever) and not just the population who were in work at the time of the survey.

The prevalence of people with work-related health problems in 2013 ranged among the EU Member States from less than 2.0 % in Romania and Ireland to more than 10.0 % in France, Poland and Austria, and more than 20.0 % in Sweden and Finland. Comparing the 2007 and 2013 data, the largest increase in percentage point terms was observed for Sweden (6.8 percentage points), while the largest decreases were observed for Poland (-7.9 points) and Denmark (-6.4 points).

It should be noted that the significant differences between countries in the EU may originate not only in different working conditions and economic structures but also in differences concerning the awareness, treatment, compensation, reporting and prevention of work-related health problems. The differences between countries mirror to some extent differences in self-reported accidents at work and in the administrative data collection European Statistics on Accidents at Work (ESAW).

Consequences of work-related health problems

Figure 2 shows work-related health problems in terms of the length of absence, if any, for people having experienced such health problems. It also demonstrates to which extent these problems limited persons' daily activities.

In 2013, among the people in the EU-28 who had experienced work-related health problems during the previous 12 months, just over half (54.8 %) had been absent from work as a consequence. Figure 2 shows this total split into three parts: those who had been absent for one to three days (5.4 %); those who had been absent for four or more days (36.0 %); and those who had experienced work-related health problems and were still off work (and so the duration was not yet clear) or did not provide information concerning the duration of their absence (13.5 %). Figure 2 also looks in more detail within the category of absences of four days or more. For example, more than one tenth (11.6 %) of people in the EU-28 who had experienced work-related health problems had been absent for more than six months.

Looking at these figures from a different perspective, nearly two in every three people in the EU-28 who had experienced work-related health problems during the previous 12 months and had been absent from work as a consequence had been absent for at least four days.

The proportion of people who had experienced work-related health problems and who had been absent from work was much larger in 2013 than in 2007. There are relatively large increases in the proportions of those who had been absent for longer periods of time, and in particular in the proportion of those who had been absent for an unknown period. Combining the information in Figures 1 and 2, it can be seen that the prevalence of work-related health problems fell, while the proportion of these people who consequently had a period of absence increased.

Concerning limitations in daily activities — for example personal care or household activities — half of the persons in the EU-28 who had experienced work-related health problems during the previous 12 months subsequently had some limitations while 22.3 % reported severe limitations. One quarter (25.3 %) of people in the EU-28 who had experienced such problems did not report any limitations as a consequence of their work-related health problems.

The proportion of people in 2013 who had experienced work-related health problems and as a result had severe limitations in daily activities was lower than in 2007 (down from 27.1 % to 22.3 %). This was also the case for the share that had experienced no limitations (down from 28.2 % to 25.3 %), while the share that had some limitations was higher (up from 43.4 % to 50.0 %).

Three fifths (60.1 %) of all persons reporting work-related health problems in the EU-28 in 2013 had musculo-skeletal disorders, for example back pain. The second largest group was problems related to stress, depression and anxiety, mentioned by 15.9 % of persons with work-related health problems. The third and fourth largest groups (apart from the miscellaneous category) were headaches and/or eyestrain (4.8 %) and cardiovascular disorders (4.5 %).

Analysis of work-related health problems by sex, age and educational attainment

Figure 4 presents several types of analysis based on personal characteristics: sex, age and educational attainment.

A slightly higher proportion of women than men in the EU-28 reported work-related health problems in 2013, 8.3 % compared with 7.6 %, which is the opposite situation to that observed for accidents at work (see article on self-reported accidents at work).

For the EU-28 as a whole, the prevalence of work-related health problems varied greatly depending on a person’s age and this variation was slightly stronger for men than for women. While 11.3 % of men and women aged 55 to 64 in 2013 reported work-related health problems during the previous 12 months, this share dropped to 5.2 % for women aged 15 to 34 and 4.2 % for men in the same age range. As such, men aged 55 to 65 were 2.7 times more likely to have experienced work-related health problems than men aged 15 to 34, while for women the equivalent factor was 2.2.

By contrast, there was less variation based on educational attainment, although again men and women in the EU-28 showed similar patterns in 2013: the lowest prevalence of work-related health problems was among people with a tertiary level of education (with university degrees), although the differences for women was minimal; the highest prevalence for both sexes was for people with upper secondary school education (starting between 14 - 16 years of age) and post-secondary non-tertiary education (between school and university).

Analysis of work-related health problems by employment status, occupation and part-time work

Rather than personal characteristics, Figure 5 presents several types of analysis based on characteristics of work: whether a person is an employee, self-employed or contributes to a family farm or business, their occupation, and whether they work on a full- or part-time basis. Note that the overall prevalence of work-related health problems for persons employed is different when analysed by work-related characteristics (as is done in Figures 5 and 6 and Table 1) than when looking at the whole population who has ever worked (as done in Figures 1 to 2) or analysed by personal characteristics (as done in Figure 4). This is because the work-related characteristics are those at the time of the labour force survey: the population is therefore limited to those in work and excludes people who had previously been in work (ever) but were currently not in work (unemployed, retired, studying, caring for other people, or otherwise economically inactive).

In the EU-28 in 2013, the prevalence of work-related health problems among persons employed was 7.7 %, rising to 8.6 % for women and dropping to 7.0 % for men. Compared with the prevalence shown in Figure 4 — which covered not just persons employed but also people who were currently not in work but had previously worked — this was 0.6 percentage points lower for men and 0.3 percentage points higher for women.

In 2013, work-related health problems across the EU-28 were slightly more common for women among employees (8.6 %) than among self-employed persons (8.4 %), while for men the reverse was true and the gap was larger, with such problems reported by 6.8 % of male employees and 7.8 % of self-employed men.

The correlation between occupations and work-related health problems was considerably smaller than between occupations and accidents at work (see article on self-reported accidents at work). For men and for women, the highest prevalence of work-related health problems was among skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers, craft and related trades workers, followed by plant and machine operators and assemblers and elementary occupations. The lowest proportions were recorded for managers, professionals, technicians and associate professionals among men, and for clerical support workers, service and sales workers among women.

Persons employed full-time were slightly more likely to experience work-related health problems than part-time persons employed (both among men and among women), reflecting possibly the fact that they are simply at work for longer and therefore exposed to the risk of problems for a longer period. The gap between full and part-time persons employed was smaller for women (0.2 percentage points) than for men (0.9 points).

Women work more often part-time than men and, as already stated above, they have also more work-related health problems. In addition, the difference between women working part-time and full-time is smaller. This also results in a higher prevalence of work-related health problems for all (men and women combined) part-time persons employed (7.9 %) than for full-time persons employed (7.7 %).

Analysis of work-related health problems by economic activity

Within the EU-28 in 2013, the highest prevalence of work-related health problems was recorded among those working in agriculture, forestry and fishing, where almost one tenth (9.8 %) of the total number of persons employed reported such problems (see Figure 6). This was 1.3 percentage points higher than the next highest prevalence, which was recorded for construction (8.5 %). The lowest prevalence was for distributive trades, transport, accommodation and food services, and information and communication (7.0 %).

In a majority of EU Member States (for which complete or nearly complete data are available — see Table 1) the highest prevalence of work-related health problems in 2013 was reported for persons employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing. By contrast, in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the highest prevalence was reported for construction, while in Italy and Sweden it was highest for other services [1]. In Bulgaria the prevalence was highest for industry, and in Greece for distributive trades, transport, accommodation and food services, and information and communication.

Exposure to risk factors

In 2013, the proportion of employed persons in the EU-28 who had experienced exposure to risk factors for mental well-being during the previous 12 months was 28.0 %, slightly more than the 25.1 % share reported in 2007 (see Figure 7).

In the EU, exposure to risk factors for mental well-being in 2013 ranged from 12.9 % in Bulgaria to more than 40.0 % in Austria, Finland and Sweden, 53.6 % in Luxembourg and 60.5 % in France [2].

Again, it should be noted that differences between countries may originate not only in different working conditions and economic structures but also in differences concerning the awareness, treatment, compensation, reporting and prevention of work-related health problems.

Comparing 2007 and 2013 data, a particularly large increase was observed in the exposure to risk factors for mental well-being in Luxembourg, while the largest decreases were observed for the United Kingdom, Malta (note the break in series) and Cyprus. Some of these changes depend on differences in survey methodology between years.

By comparison, the proportion of employed persons in the EU-28 who had experienced exposure to risk factors for physical health during the previous 12 months was notably higher than for mental well-being: in 2013, more than half (50.9 %) of employed persons had experienced exposure to risk factors for physical health, considerably more than the 37.7 % proportion recorded in 2007.

Exposure to risk factors for physical health in 2013 went from less than a quarter in Denmark and Germany to more than three quarters in Portugal, Estonia and France. Comparing the 2007 and 2013 data, particularly large increases were observed for Luxembourg and Latvia. Only Denmark, the United Kingdom and Malta reported decreases between 2007 and 2013.

Risk factors for mental well-being concerns three types of risks. Among these, by far the most common in 2013 in the EU-28 was severe time pressure or overload of work, reported by 22.9 % of women and 23.6 % of men (see Figure 9). The two other mental well-being risk factors were far less common, ranging from 2.0 % of men for harassment or bullying to 2.4 % of women for violence or the threat of violence.

For men, the most common risk factor for physical health in 2013 was the risk of accident. This was also the risk for which the gender gap was largest, with 12.6 % for men and 5.2 % of women. Although women were generally less likely to be exposed to risk factors for physical health, there were two types of risks which were more common for women than for men and these were also the two risk factors that were most common for women: 11.8 % of women reported exposure to activities involving strong visual concentration compared with 9.3 % for men; and 14.7 % of women reported exposure to difficult work postures and/or work movements compared with 11.8 % for men. Among the six types of risks, the two least common in the EU-28 — for men and for women — were exposure to chemicals, dust, fumes, smoke or gases and exposure to noise or strong vibration.

Risk factors by sex, age and educational attainment

A slightly higher proportion of women than men in the EU-28 reported exposure to risk factors for mental well-being in 2013, 28.4 % compared with 27.7 %. For exposure to risk factors for physical health the reverse was true, with a much larger gender gap: 54.5 % for men and 46.6 % for women.

In the EU-28, the exposure to risk factors was higher for persons aged 35 to 54 than for younger (aged 15 to 34) and for older (aged 55 to 64) employed persons (similar for men and for women).

Exposure to mental health risk factors was more than 10.0 percentage points higher for persons with tertiary education (university level) than for persons with at most a lower secondary level of education (ending most often between 14 - 16 years of age), for both men and women. By contrast, for physical health the proportion exposed to risk factors was substantially higher for persons with at most a lower secondary education (particularly for men), while it was lowest for persons with a tertiary level of education.

Risk factors by economic activity

The level of exposure to risk factors for mental well-being in the EU-28 was similar for people working in industry and construction in 2013, with a somewhat higher prevalence for people working in services and a lower prevalence for people working in agriculture, forestry and fisheries (see Figure 11). This pattern was broadly similar in 2007.

For risk factors for physical health, the situation was almost the reverse of that for risk factors for mental well-being. The lowest levels of prevalence of exposure to risk factors for physical health in 2013 were for people working in services, while the highest levels were for people working in construction, in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and in industry, in other words the male-dominated activities.

In a majority of EU Member States (for which complete or nearly complete data are available — see Table 2) the highest prevalence of exposure to risk factor for mental well-being in 2013 was reported for persons employed in other services and the lowest for persons employed in agriculture, forestry and fisheries or in construction. Finland was the only Member State where the lowest prevalence was reported for persons employed in industry, while Poland was the only Member State where the highest prevalence was reported for persons employed in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

In nearly all EU Member States the prevalence of exposure to risk factors for physical health in 2013 was highest among people working in either construction or in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The only exceptions were in Estonia and Latvia where the highest prevalence was reported for persons employed in industry. The lowest prevalence of exposure to risk factors for physical health was reported for persons employed in other services by most Member States, with only a few exceptions: in Portugal the lowest prevalence was for persons employed in agriculture, forestry and fisheries; in Denmark, Austria and the United Kingdom the lowest prevalence was for persons employed in distributive trades, transport, accommodation and food services, and information and communication.

Data sources and availability

In December 2008, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation (EC) No 1338/2008 on Community statistics on public health and health and safety at work. The Regulation is designed to ensure that health statistics provide adequate information for all EU Member States to monitor Community actions in the field of public health and health and safety at work.

LFS ad hoc module

The labour force survey is a quarterly sample survey of people living in private households. In addition, since 1999, an ad hoc module is added to the survey each year focusing on a particular issue: in 2007 and 2013 the ad hoc modules included questions concerning self-reported accidents at work, work-related health problems, and factors that can adversely affect mental well-being or physical health. Eurostat plans to carry out another ad hoc module on accidents at work in year 2020.

For further information on ad hoc modules from the labour force survey please refer to a background article on this subject.

Coverage

The labour force survey is conducted in all EU Member States as well as some EFTA and enlargement countries: data from the 2013 ad hoc module are available for all EU Member States except for the Netherlands, as well as Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

While the labour force survey covers all persons aged 15 and over, the data presented in this article concern people aged 15 to 64. The questions concerning work-related health problems were asked to people who were either in work or had previously worked. The questions concerning exposure to risk factors were asked to people who were in work at the time of the survey.

Work-related health problems concern illnesses, disabilities or physical or mental health problems caused or made worse (in the opinion of the survey respondents) by current or previous work and from which a person suffered during the 12 months prior to the survey. The onset of the health problem could have been more than a year before the survey, but is included if the victim still suffered from this problem during the 12 months reference period. It is not required that a complaint was made or that the illness was ‘recognised’ or that a consequence of the problem was that there was an absence from work. If a person experienced more than one problem then the survey focused on the most serious. Injuries resulting from accidents at work should not be included. The consequences of the health problem are not limited to work consequences, but also concern private consequences.

The analysis of the length of absence due to a work-related health problem is based strictly on days of absence related to the accident/problem, not subsequent consequences (such as unemployment).

Exposure to health risk factors concerns mental and physical health. Exposure to mental well-being risk factors is defined by a specific list of risks: severe time pressure or overload of work; violence or threat of violence; harassment or bullying. Severe time pressure and overload of work refers to demands going beyond the abilities and resources of the person and as such leading to a decrease in mental well-being. Violence and threat of violence refers to physical force that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm, all three leading to a decrease in mental well-being. Harassment and bullying refer to intentional use of power that can result in harm to physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development leading to a decrease in mental well-being. In a similar vein, exposure to physical health risk factors is defined by a specific list of risks: difficult work postures or movements; handling of heavy loads; noise or strong vibration; chemicals, dust, fumes, smoke or gases; activities involving strong visual concentration; risk of accidents.

For work-related health problems and for exposure to health risk factors, the concept of being at work refers to the usual environment where a person carries out his/her work activities. In most cases this is the local unit, but for some employed persons that work outside the local unit (for example, builders, fire officers, or sales personnel) it is the general environment where their work is usually carried out.

Classifications

Data presented by activity are based on NACE Rev. 1.1 in 2007 and on NACE Rev. 2 in 2013: although the same names are used for the activity aggregates presented in this article (such as industry or construction) the coverage of these aggregates differs between the two versions of the classification and should not be directly compared.

Data by occupation are presented according to the international standard classification of occupations which is maintained by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Data for 2007 are based on ISCO-88 while data for 2013 are based on ISOC-08.

Context

Businesses and other employers are responsible for workplace health and safety. They are obliged to prevent exposure to risks in order to avoid accidents at work and work-related (also known as occupational) health problems. Occupational diseases are typically chronic ailments resulting from work or working conditions. Governments across the EU Member States recognise the social and economic benefits of better health and safety at work.

Reliable, comparable, up-to-date statistical information is vital for setting policy objectives and adopting suitable policy measures and preventing actions. For more information please refer to this article concerning accidents at work (ESAW).

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Database

Accidents at work and other work-related health problems (source LFS) (hsw_apex)
Work-related health problems (hsw_pb)
Exposure to risk factors for physical health and mental well-being (hsw_exp)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

ESMS metadata files

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

External links

Notes

  1. This includes, among others, financial, real estate and business services, as well as public administration, education, human health, social work, arts, entertainment and recreation services.
  2. Note that in 2013 the questionnaires in a few Member States, including both Luxembourg and France, referred to time pressure as a mental risk factor, rather than severe time pressure, and this may have resulted in an overestimation of the prevalence.