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Worker health and wellbeing can have a direct effect on work health and safety and business performance.

Common risk factors that contribute to chronic disease include smoking, risky alcohol consumption, unhealthy eating, physical inactivity and obesity.

Work health issues such as these are usually caused by a combination of work factors, personal factors and factors outside work, all of which contribute to work safety and business outcomes.

In 2004–05, 33 per cent of working age Australians reported that they suffered from at least one chronic disease, such as arthritis, musculoskeletal disease, depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

The model below outlines how personal and work related factors influence worker health and wellbeing and the performance of the business.

Healthy worker diagram

Impacts of worker health on safety and business performance

Work design, workplace culture and the physical environment can contribute to the development of chronic diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and psychological illness.

Workers that are regularly exposed to hazardous working conditions, physically demanding tasks, high levels of stress and long working hours are more likely to smoke, have low levels of physical activity and poor nutrition, and consume too much alcohol.

A number of Australian and international research studies show worker health and wellbeing is closely linked to productivity, risk of injury and business costs. Below are some of the results of these studies.

Costs to business

  • The financial cost in Australia of obesity alone (not including those who are considered overweight) was estimated at $8.3 billion in 2008, with $3.6 billion (44 per cent) being attributed to loss in workplace productivity.
  • It could be reasonably expected that increases in accident numbers, claim durations and medical costs associated with obesity will place pressure on workers' compensation schemes in the future.
  • In 2009–10, the total cost of presenteeism* to the Australian economy was estimated to be $34.1 billion.
  • The four main causes of presenteeism are unhealthy lifestyles, workers with illnesses going to work, allergies and asthma, poor work-life balance and high levels of work related stress.
  • In 2009–10, the cost of work related injury and disease in Queensland was estimated to be $6.2 billion, of which employers bore $390 million1.

Risk of injury

  • Obesity increases the risk of injury, including an increased probability of slips, trips and falls and musculoskeletal injury.
  • Sleep apnoea increases road injury risk and is strongly associated with obesity.
  • Recovery from injury takes longer for obese people, with the average hospital stays significantly longer.


  • When comparing healthy and unhealthy Australian workers found:
    • the healthiest Australian employees were almost three times more productive than their unhealthy colleagues
    • workers with medium to high health risks were three times more likely to file workers compensation claims.
  • In 2001, it was estimated that more than four million days per year were lost by Australian workplaces due to obesity.
  • Excess weight and physical inactivity are associated with employees' work performance. Obese workers are more likely to take sick leave and be less productive.
  • Two and a half million work days were missed annually because of personal alcohol use.
  • On average, 6.5 working days of productivity are lost annually per employee as a result of presenteeism.

* Presenteeism is defined as the productivity that is lost when employees come to work but, as a consequence of illness or other medical conditions, are not fully productive. Employees who work when ill are more prone to injury and, if contagious, increase the risk of passing on an illness to other employees.


  1. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (2011) Cost of Workplace Incidents in Queensland: 2009–10 Update
Last updated
04 April 2017

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