occupational health

Read more about occupational health and how it affects your business.

what is OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH?

Occupational health is a specialist branch of medicine that manages all aspects of health and fitness within the workplace. It takes into consideration an employee’s fitness and ability to fulfil a particular job role and plays a vital role in managing sickness absence and general staff health and wellbeing. An occupational health team usually consists of nurses, physicians and technicians with additional medical input from employee’s general practitioners or specialists where required.

According to the HSE, in 2017/18 1.4 million workers suffered work-related ill health and occupational health disease. 44% of these cases were due to stress, depression or anxiety, 35% due to musculoskeletal disorders and 21% due to other types of illness. These ill health cases cause businesses to suffer financial and productivity loss.

How will occupational health benefit my business?

An effective occupational health programme pays dividends for both employer and employee by:

  • Reducing costs associated with staff absence and sickness in terms of management, administration and sick pay
  • Offering professional and independent advice
  • Providing reinforcement of current procedures
  • Enabling better understanding for managers and human resource departments
  • Increasing staff morale by dealing with absence effectively and by providing support
  • Adding additional layers of compliance for health and safety and equality legislation

Returning on investment pays for itself.

How does a referral to Occupational Health (OH) improve attendance?

Managing sickness absence is the responsibility of the manager/employer. It starts from the time a worker goes off sick or their health impaired.  There are so many health issues and responses; a manager/employer cannot understand all of them.  Occupational health (OH) staff understand the workplace, health and job and can give advice and support along the way.

Most companies will have an informal or formal system for managing absence.  This is usually written into a policy, called something like ‘Attendance Management’. It sets out what everyone should do in particular circumstances.

Workers may not like talking to managers about their health.  This may be because of a manager’s possible reaction to the problem, or because others might find out. Yet, OH work under a strict code of confidentiality.

You can ask OH for an opinion on how to manage the worker’s health condition, and receive advice about:

  • A health condition,
  • How it is likely to affect a worker’s performance,
  • What adjustments to consider, particularly if there is a health condition covered by the Equality Act 2010.

 OH also helps employees, by suggesting counselling, physiotherapy, improved diet, exercise and so on.

What is the most important thing I do to get the best out of an occupational health referral?

The process of referral should be as transparent as possible.

Managers and employees need to trust each other. So clear communication is the key to success.

OH should always be available for advice and support before and after a referral. If necessary contact OH to discuss any concerns or ask for guidance about the referral.

The employee should also be aware of why they are being referred and have a copy of the referral letter.

How do I use the recommendations from OH?

The report you get back from OH should include:

  • The reason for the referral
  • Background
  • Overview of medical aspects
  • Work-related aspects
  • Opinion and recommendations including capacity for work; recommended adjustments and restrictions including rehabilitation
  • Prognosis including further suggested treatments and referrals
  • Answers to your questions you have asked in the referral letter
  • Review date if required

The information from OH should help to clarify what you need to do to manage the person. Suggestions such as making some changes or allowances to accommodate a person’s health problem may be needed. Recommendation will always be clearly defined and reasonable to each employer.

What else will OH do to help me manage employees who are off sick?

For short-term absence, that is, odd days off, OH will explain the consequences of absence with the employee. For instance, how you may set goals and timescales for an improvement in attendance rate. Or maybe even disciplinary actions. They will explain that this is for their line manager to decide, not OH.

OH staff will also talk about possible dismissal if the absence continues.  And this may be the first time that the employee has heard this which can be a shock.

What does phased return to work mean?

Returning to work full-time after an illness is tiring, and if not handled well, could lead to further absence. Some jobs need high levels of stamina and fitness. Research shows that coming back gradually, that is, building up hours over four weeks, is more successful. It also builds confidence and avoids excessive fatigue.

Most rehabilitation programmes run over a four-week period. The idea is to increase working hours gradually. The great benefit being that workers can return far earlier too.

Typical programmes are two days in week one and 3 or 4 days in week two. Or, 4 or 5 half days in the first week, increasing these hours in week 2 and full-time in week 3 or 4. The progress depends on the illness, motivation of the worker and the type of job.

OH staff will also talk about possible dismissal if the absence continues.  And this may be the first time that the employee has heard this which can be a shock.

Should I refer to OH for sporadic sickness?

Always ask at the return to work interview if they have a health problem causing their absence from work. If so they may want to discuss it with you. Or you can offer to refer the worker to OH.

You also need to follow your company policy. Does it specify you have to send workers to OH? If so, then you need to follow procedures.

What is health surveillance?

Cases of work-related and occupational health disease can be reduced and monitored by health surveillance in order to identify any potential risks within the workplace. Health surveillance is a system of monitoring health of staff that have a risk of being affected by their job role and is required by law when exposed to noise, vibration, solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health. Some health checks should take place annually and will give the practitioner and employer opportunity to identify any changes in health that require workplace action/further input from health and safety.

What is a HAVS assessment?

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) Assessment – Significant and permanent ill health can be caused by the use of hand-held power tools and vibrating equipment. HAVS is preventable, so it is important to conduct health surveillance on those at risk of exposure or those with pre-existing conditions such as Raynaud’s disease. HAVS assessments can identify any vibration-related condition early in order to prevent its progression and ensure the effectiveness of measures in place. 

The HSE recommends a tiered approach to health surveillance for HAVS, considering the complex nature of the condition and the relative paucity of competent specialists. The tiered approach consists, in total, of five levels, although the fifth level is optional depending upon circumstances:

  • Baseline assessment completed upon commencing employment (tier 1)
  • Annual screening questionnaire (tier 2)
  • Assessment by a qualified person – this should be conducted every third year (tier3)
  • Diagnosis (tier 4)
  • Standardised tests (optional). (tier 5)
Will I be tied in with a contract if I use JRL Occupational Health Solutions’ services?

We recognise that all organisations are unique, so we offer a variety of affordable solutions tailored to fit companies of all shapes and sizes. We offer both traditional contracted services as well as pay-as-you-go services.

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