Occupational Health (OH) looks at an individual’s health and how their health may be contributing or affecting work and their role in the workplace. OH seeks to promote and maintain the health and wellbeing of employees, with the aim of ensuring a positive relationship between an employee’s work and health. OH can be used for both physical and mental wellbeing.
OH teams can develop a range of services designed to meet business needs and can include;
- Reduce sickness absence.
- Prevent and remove health risks arising in the workplace – ensuring businesses meet their statutory responsibilities, and helping businesses maintain a healthy workforce.
- Provide screening and surveillance services when early stages of ill health arise.
- Provide impartial and professional advice on employees health problems.
- Lifestyle and wellbeing services to increase productivity and staff retention.
Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to all its employees, and must do all they reasonably can to support employees health, safety and wellbeing.
But that’s not the only reason to look after your employees; OH can contribute to business success and employer should that recognise managing their people is just as important as controlling financial and capital resources.
There are some OH referral employee rights in place, which mean;
- An employee does not have to agree to see an OH professional; and
- The employee can refuse for the OH report and suggestions to be shared with their employer.
It’s good practice to have an OH policy so employee can check if the business has OH in place and also what is covered. The policy should include:
- when an occupational health referral or assessment can be made;
- how, where and by who it’s carried out;
- what both the employer and employee need to do; and
- what the next steps are.
An example of how OH can support employees:
- An employee is suffering with a back injury. The employer arranges for an OH adviser to conduct an assessment.
- The assessment advises the employee needs their work chair adjusted, and the employer arranges the adjustment. This helps the employee to work comfortably and without making their injury worse.
- The employee does not have to agree to an occupational health assessment, but it’s a good idea as it can help them; get any support they might need and get back to work quicker.
Once employer and employee are both in agreement, the employer will need to contact an OH expert with a referral form. To help the OH expert to understand the nature of the employee’s role and how the condition is affecting their ability to work, the referral should include details about the employee, their work and their health condition to allow the OH expert to carry out an informed assessment.
Once OH expert has received the form, they’ll contact the employee to schedule an appointment at a time that’s suitable. During an OH assessment the OH adviser might ask the employee about:
- their health problem
- any treatment they’re having
- any concerns they have about returning to work
An OH assessment is a useful addition to a doctor’s medical report because it’s more focused on; how the employee does their job; and how the job might affect the employee’s health.
Following the OH assessment an employer might agree that the employee needs:
- a phased return to work, which could include lighter duties or a reduction in hours for a period of time;
- a referral for an appropriate course of therapy, for example physiotherapy or counselling;
- adjustments to their workspace, for example an ergonomic chair; and/or
- more time off work.
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