'Occupational health' concerns the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace.
It’s purpose? To remove work-related illnesses and injuries.
What is occupational health?
‘Occupational health’ refers to the physical and mental wellbeing of your employees. It can also refer to a specific medical service that supports both the employee and the employer.
When using the term to refer to health, it’s important to note that it is always in relation to the job itself. In other words, if an existing condition impacts an employee’s ability to perform their role—that’s occupational health. Likewise, a condition that the employee's role causes, physical or mental, is also occupational health.
If an issue occurs, that’s when the medical service can get involved. Here’s how:
What does occupational health do?
Before we answer this question, check your policies for references to occupational health. Do you provide services in-house, or do you refer to an external service? If so, who carries it out and how do you arrange contact?
If your policies aren’t clear, you should review these and bring them up to date.
If you have no policy on this at all, you should refer to the employee and their doctor.
What power does occupational health have?
If an employee is off work on long-term sickness, or is returning from sickness absence, you might want to seek advice. This is where occupational health comes into play.
You refer the employee to a health adviser. They carry out an assessment of the employee and report back to you. The results of the report should tell you if the employee is able to do their job and when they can return to work. It should also highlight any problems that could cause further health or absence issues.
This will help you manage their return to work and keep them safe for the foreseeable future.
What is an occupational health assessment?
The nature of an occupational health assessment is to determine if the employee is fit for work. These reviews will cover a variety of health areas, from physical to mental.
To document every condition here would take a long time. Instead, we’ll look at some examples of the tests that can take place. These tests include:
- Vibration health checks
- Blood pressure
- Skin health checks
- Respiratory health checks
- Colour vision test
- Vision test
- Respiratory health check
- Audiometry health check
- Musculoskeletal questionnaire
These checks usually come under one of four types of occupational health screening:
- Pre-employment health checks – for new workers before they begin their role
- NHS health checks – offered to everybody in England every five years
- Health checks/lifestyle checks – general health checks offered with an employee assistance programme
- Health surveillance – regular checks for existing personnel
You will need different occupational health assessments for mental health conditions. These include occupational health assessments for depression, anxiety, and other conditions.
These types of tests tend to include a series of tick-box questions. In this next section, we’ll review what you can expect from one of these exercises.
Occupational health questionnaire
The type of questions you’ll ask an employee will depend on them. This includes their situation, their role, and their condition. As there is such a broad range, so we won’t cover every possibility in this section.
Instead, we’ll focus on two—general health and mental health.
First, here are some generic occupational health assessment questions:
- Do you have an impairment which may affect your ability to work safely?
- Do you have eyesight problems that glasses/contact lenses cannot correct?
- Do you have hearing problems that a hearing aid cannot correct?
- Do you currently have a drug or alcohol problem?
- Do you experience fits, blackouts, or suffer from epilepsy?
- Do you struggle when standing, bending, lifting, or any other movements?
- Do you have any form of back problem?
- Have you ever experienced discomfort or pain when using a computer keyboard?
- Do you have any allergies?
- Do you have asthma, bronchitis, or any other chest problem?
- Have you had treatment for TB?
- Do you suffer from diabetes, thyroid or gland problems?
- Have you ever had an illness or injury caused, or made worse, by your work?
- Do you suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure?
- Are you currently taking any form of medication?
Please note that this is a rough guide. Alter or expand it to fit your needs.
This list mostly considers previous medical history. For a full assessment, you’ll need to include specific questions. These will regard capability and reasonable adjustments.
The goal is to return the employee to work, after all.
You’ll notice there was no mention of mental health within the list. You can include questions on anxiety, stress, and depression in your general questionnaire. However, it may be worth using focused questions for an employee suffering from mental health.
Here are some occupational health assessment questions for depression and mental health problems:
- Have you ever suffered from stress associated with work?
- Are you currently receiving treatment for a mental health issue?
- Have you previously suffered from mental illness or psychological problems?
- Do you find that you’re worrying all the time while you’re at work?
- Do you regularly experience unpleasant physical or psychological effects, such as panic attacks?
These questions help establish the issue the employee is suffering from. However, an occupational health screening won’t solely diagnose the individual. It will also tell you if they’re fit for work and how to return them to the workplace (if possible).
We’ll look at these reports next.
Occupational health reports
A report should include a few key elements. We could go into granular detail, but ultimately it needs to answer three main questions:
- Is the employee fit for work?
- Are adjustments required?
- Is the employee likely to have further absences?
Another important thing to consider with any occupational health report is employee rights. Central to this is something we haven’t mentioned yet—consent.
The employee can withdraw their consent at any point during the process and it must stop. The individual also has the right to see the final report before you.
They also have the right to refuse you the report.
This will clearly make things difficult on your side. However, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of forcing the assessment through.
If the employee does refuse, you may want to pursue a capability dismissal. If you do, it’s important that you communicate with the employee and try to come to an agreement before considering this option.
Occupational health referrals
You should only make a referral when there is a legitimate concern about an employee’s health. This can also include their performance or level of sickness absence. If this is the case, you need to gather enough details to make an appropriate assessment.
The medical professional you refer the individual to should understand the nature of their role and how it might affect their health.
Once you’ve established what you want from the assessment, you need to inform the employee of the procedure and get their consent. This can be a tricky conversation, so it’s important you have an HR representative with you.
Or, at least seek external HR advice beforehand.
Then, you’ll need to write the referral. Provide the employee with a copy of the form before you arrange the appointment. Ideally, you’d want them to sign this document as proof of their consent.
One of the more common questions we receive is this:
“How do I make an occupational health referral for work-related stress?”
The answer is the same as a referral for a physical health problem. The conversation may be more difficult, due to the nature of the condition. However, it’s important that you don’t shy away from it.
This process is easier with help from our employee assistance programme. You can learn more about this system in the next section.
Occupational health software solutions
An Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) is an employee benefit offered by many leading employers. EAPs help employees deal with personal problems. These might hurt their work performance and health and wellbeing. EAPs include assessments, short-term counselling and referral services. These are available for employees and their immediate family.
The My Healthy Advantage app itself offers industry-leading features across 4 key categories:
- Reward & recognition