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Occupational health in the workplace

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Workplace absence through sickness is a constant headache for employers but now it is hoped that a new Government taskforce being put in place will improve employer awareness of the importance of occupational health in the workplace.

Occupational health support

SMEs do not always know what is available and consequently, this can mean that their staff are unable to benefit from any form of occupational health service.

The new taskforce will produce a voluntary occupational health framework for businesses, part of this will involve setting out minimum levels of occupational health needed to stop sickness-related job losses and help businesses support those returning to work after a period of ill-health.

“It is so important for employers to be aware of this type of support, but sometimes SMEs are too busy keeping going that they do not have the time or the resources to look into occupational health,” said Partner and Employment Law Solicitor, Susan Mayall.

“By being able to access occupational health it is hoped that sickness and absenteeism in the workplace can be reduced, and this will not only help employers retain trained staff, it will aid productivity and play a vital role in maintaining the well-being of their workforce,” she said.

What is occupational health?

Occupational health and safety are primarily concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of staff in their place of work.  Often, we hear the term ‘being referred to occupational health’ and this will happen when there is a concern about an employee’s health, work performance (where there may be health implications) or level of sickness absence.  The overall aim is to make sure staff are fit enough to do the role they have been employed to do.

When an employee's health could affect their job, or be affected by the work they do, their employer can ask them if they'll agree to an assessment with an occupational health adviser.

Do workplaces need occupational health?

Many smaller companies will not have a designated occupational health department and in that case, it will be carried out by an external agency.  Larger companies however do often have their own employer’s occupational health service.

Just 28% of SMEs provide some form of occupational health, with large employers (89%) nearly three times more likely to do so.

Role of occupational health in the workplace

The occupational health adviser assesses the employee and reports back to the employer.

An employer might want to use occupational health when:

  • there is a physical or mental health issue
  • in cases of long-term absence
  • to assist in return to work planning
  • to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee
  • to reduce the amount of sickness

“An employer might want to use occupational health when a staff member is struggling with their physical or mental health, or get advice on making any reasonable adjustments for people in the workplace,” added Susan Mayall.

“They should also be a credible point of contact when an employee has been off sick for a long time or is returning to work after sickness absence, only by being fully informed and aware can employers be empowered to help their staff.”

Do employers have to follow occupational health recommendations?

Employers do not have to strictly follow the recommendations from the occupational health assessment, but an employer would normally have to have valid reasons if it is decided not to accept recommendations its occupational health consultant has made.

It would depend upon the individual circumstances, i.e. an employee may disagree with the consultant’s recommendations. Also, an employer may simply not be able to put in place the recommendations.

Occupational health assessments can help the employer understand what their employee needs to:

  • feel better
  • return to work
  • do their job
  • avoid anything that could cause further health or absence issues

Occupational health workplace policies

“As a matter of good business housekeeping business owners should review their occupational health workplace policies, or if there is not one in place keep channels of communication open and liaise with the employee and their doctor, if necessary,” added Susan.

The workplace policy should include:

  • Where occupational health can be accessed
  • When a referral or assessment can be made
  • What both the employer and employee need to do

How can we help?

At Pearson Solicitors our designated employment lawyers for businesses can offer legal advice on contracts, workplace policies and managing long-term employee sickness. For further information on our employment legal services contact a member of the team on 0161 785 3500 or email 

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

Written by Susan Mayall


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