The value of Occupational Health

What is Occupational Health? 

Occupational Health covers all aspects of the health of employees in the workplace. It can be preventative, supportive or reactive depending on the needs of the employee and the employer.

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Occupational health professionals come from a number of different healthcare backgrounds including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and technicians. They can each provide specialist expertise, depending on their background and qualifications, to assist a business in looking after the health of its staff.

How can Occupational Health add value to my business?

By law, employers have a duty of care to make sure employees are looked after at work. Occupational Health can assist with this in a number of ways from assessing people’s fitness for safety critical roles, providing advice and screening for health surveillance, educating employees and most importantly, timely advice on supporting people with health problems in work or back to work.

The way people work and are managed at work can have a big effect on their health. The Government is encouraging employers to create healthy workplaces and help manage the cost to the economy of work-related ill health, which is currently estimated at £100bn a year.  Healthy, happy employees are more productive and tend to stay with their employer for longer, reducing the hidden costs of presenteeism and staff turnover.

Which side is Occupational Health on – the employer who pays the bills or the employee?

The answer to this is neither. A good occupational health professional will be objective and spend time with both the business and the employee.  They will need to understand the business’ needs, the constraints of the role and any concerns raised.

The employee will also have a confidential medical or consultation with the occupational health professional, and make sure they fully understand the situation based on the employees' difficulties or needs.

Must a business take the advice of an occupational health professional?

The business should review the advice and consider what is best for the business and the individual. If the recommendations are difficult to implement or they feel are not in the organisations’ best interest, they should take some time to discuss this with the occupational health professional.

They don’t have to follow the advice given and are free to consider other sources of information and have more contact with the employee if necessary.

Money should never be a barrier to implementing changes suggested by Occupational Health. The Government offers grants through its Access To Work scheme, to provide funds to help employers make reasonable adjustments to support employees with medical issues stay in work or get back to work.

Why can’t the business just rely on a fit note or letter from a GP?

Occupational Health is a specialist area of medicine that takes years of training and practise, in the same way, that a doctor might specialise in Surgery or Dentistry, they might also specialise in Occupational Medicine. As a specialist, they have extensive knowledge about different health conditions and their impact on work. This is something that a GP or a hospital doctor might know very little about and may find it difficult to understand the individual’s health problems from a work perspective.  

Interested in more information?

If you want to know more about the value of Occupational Health for the business please contact Kathryn at Cordell Health for a chat or download Occupational health: the value proposition from the society of Occupational Medicine here.