What is Occupational Health?

Occupational health deals with mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace. Personal health should be held with the highest importance. If you’re unwell, your work-life will suffer and deteriorate.

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Health Assured team

03 April 2019

OH officers help identify any issues with staff wellbeing–making work changes where necessary.

As an employee, it's important to understand the principles of occupational health and safety in the workplace. Without it, you could face negligence and discrimination claims–leading to costly business repercussions.

In this guide, we’ll look at what occupational health is, the laws around H&S, and how to apply it in the workplace. 

About occupational health

Occupational health (OH) is the practice of maintaining employee wellbeing in the workplace.

It’s all about reducing or preventing health-related risks. OH officers provide objective advice and guidance to those affected by long-term and short-term issues.

As an employer, you benefit from having a stronger workforce and a reduction in sickness absences. A healthy workplace will lead to a healthy business overall.

What does an occupational health service do?

Occupational health services provided a range of assistance, helping to maintain and enhance mental and physical health.

OH professionals offer:

  • Independent health advice.
  • Fitness assessments.
  • Guidance on legal employment rights.
  • Pre-employment assessments.
  • Advice on policies and procedures.

Officers work across a range of businesses, each competent in providing the right support. Some professionals include doctors, physiotherapists, and hygienists.

What are occupational health issues?

There are several different types of issues that OH officers deal with. Some examples include:

  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
  • Work-related mental health issues.
  • Work-related dermatitis.
  • Work-related asthma.
  • Work-related rehabilitation.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss.
  • Exposure to harmful chemicals.

What are the laws on occupational health?

There isn’t a specific act on occupational health and safety in the UK.

However, under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), employers have a duty of care to protect their employees’ health–mentally and physically.

Maintaining a healthy workplace is a legal obligation for all businesses. The role of occupational health in the workplace includes:

  • Applying assessments.
  • Employing responsible officers.
  • Complying with legal requirements.
  • Revising risks and evaluations. 

Many find OH services provide appropriate advice, for employees and for the workplace overall. However, if you neglect them, you could face discrimination claims–resulting in costly fines and business damages.

How to apply occupational health and safety in the workplace 

Your first step is to apply occupational health and safety procedures. In the workplace, you can provide occupational health assessments, policies, and practices.

Together, they can reduce sickness and work-related risks (which can cause serious impacts to employee welfare).

Before actioning any assessments, you must gain permission from the employee in question. After this, you can identify and eliminate all hazards found in the workplace.

If you cannot permanently eliminate them, provide reasonable adjustments. These allow employees to sufficiently work alongside issues–without them affecting their performance or conduct.

Protecting their wellbeing can enhance productivity, reduce absenteeism, and ease their return to work after sick leave.

Can employees refuse to see occupational health?

Yes, they can refuse to see an OH professional. However, you must emphasise this isn’t beneficial for them or the business.

The point of an occupational health referral is to make life easier. It’s not about deciding employees are unfit for jobs and firing them. Rather. it’s about facing an issue and finding the best methods around it.

Can occupational health force an employee to stop working?

An OH professional cannot force an employee to stop working–they can only give advice.

After their assessments, they’ll make a subjective decision on an employee’s capability to work.

In the end, their recommendation can range from 'fit to work' or taking short/long term leave.

Their assessment should then be discussed between you and the employee. In the end, it’s your decision to make–but their advice is well worth heeding.

Can occupational health request medical records?

OC professionals can only request medical records after gaining consent. Once a consent form has been signed, they can access GP or hospital reports.

All registered professionals must maintain strict medical confidentiality. So, nobody outside of the service is allowed to see reports without written permission. This includes managers, HR staff, and legal representatives.

Get expert guidance on occupational health with Health Assured 

Employee wellbeing is one of the highest legal obligations you have as an employer.

By helping them, you can protect their health conditions and, simultaneously, your business needs.

Health Assured offer a range of support services though our Employee Assistance Programme. We have a helpline that’s available to employees 24/7–365 days a year.

We also provide a wide range of health assessment services. If you’re an employer looking for OH services, get in touch with one of our experts on 0800 206 2532.

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