Occupational Health (Industrial Report) - UK - July 2014
“The aftermath of the financial crisis had a contrasting impact on the occupational market. On the one hand, employees feared for their employment status as companies sought to cut costs by making redundancies, reducing absentee rates. However, this also increased the levels of presenteeism (attending work while sick), while the threat of being made redundant also increased mental ill-health and stress in the workplace. Organisations of all sizes are finally starting to realise the benefits of having an OH service, but how they make the best use of these services (by greater employer-employee interaction and targeting prevention of, rather than curing, illnesses) will determine the development of the market.”
- Lewis Cone, Research Analyst
This report covers the UK occupational health market. Occupational health is defined as healthcare provision provided in the workplace and includes both specific health and safety care and broader issues of health, fitness and preventative health care, often referred to under the heading of wellness. It remains the case, however, that a feature of the sector is the lack of a clear definition and understanding of what constitutes occupational health. Effectively, occupational health comprises health services to employees that are paid for by the employer.
There remains much debate and confusion over the precise definition of what constitutes occupational healthcare and the boundaries of the sector remain vague. According to the joint International Labour Organisation/World Health Organisation Committee on Occupational Health, occupational healthcare is aimed at the following:
“The promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social wellbeing of workers in all occupations; the prevention amongst workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; and the placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his/her physiological and psychological capabilities.”
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests “The term 'occupational health' conveys different things to different people. For some, it means simply the prevention and treatment of illness that is directly related to work, in which health education has no place. Others will emphasise fitness for work issues separately from health and safety. However, the impact of any sickness absence on SMEs and their employees does not brook such fine distinctions. In those terms, it is of little importance whether the sickness is the result of an accident at work, long term exposure to risk or the conflicting demands of home and work. Only a holistic approach can make a difference to health inequalities.”
The HSE therefore reports that occupational health can embrace:
- The effect of work on health, whether through sudden injury or through long term exposure to agents with latent effects on health, and the prevention of occupational disease through techniques which include health surveillance, ergonomics, and effective human resource management systems
- The effect of health on work, bearing in mind that good occupational health practice should address the fitness of the task for the worker, not the fitness of the worker for the task alone
- Rehabilitation and recovery programmes
- Helping the disabled to secure and retain work
- Managing work related aspects of illness with potentially multi factorial causes (e.g. musculoskeletal disorders, coronary heart disease) and helping workers to make informed choices regarding lifestyle issues
As well as addressing issues that occur, an occupational health service should be proactive and aim to reduce potential problems in the workplace. Hence the activities of occupational health are likely to include:
- Implementing policy
- Ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations
- Minimising and eliminating hazards
- Dealing with cases of drug and alcohol abuse, and advising on HIV/AIDS issues
- Offering preemployment health assessment
- Maintaining relations with appropriate bodies and individuals
- Monitoring the health of employees after an accident, illness and during and after pregnancy
- Managing clinic facilities, basic health checks and first aid
- Advising on medical severance and illhealth retirement
- Advising on ergonomic issues and workplace design
- Promoting good health education programmes
- Promoting healthy eating
- Monitoring symptoms of workrelated stress
- Providing advice and counselling
- Working with special needs groups
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