- Employers warned to remember duty of care to all staff
London, 11 July, 2013
Employers should beware of neglecting their duty of care to protect the health of all employees, including part-time workers. The warning from health and safety experts Croner – part of the global information services group Wolters Kluwer – is based on a survey showing a clear divide in the health benefits enjoyed by full-time and part-time workers, despite employers’ identical duty of care to all employees. On behalf of Croner, YouGov asked a representative sample of adults in Britain what their employers do to prevent ill health in the workplace.
Typical occupational health programmes include activities such as providing relevant health information, counselling, wellbeing initiatives and health checks. While almost a third (31%) of employed workers in the survey say their employers do not offer any such support, there is a sizeable gap between full-time employees and part-timers, who are more likely to miss out. Of those working full-time, more than one in four (28%) say they do not receive occupational health services, but this rises to 42% among part-time workers. Several factors could account for this lower level of provision, according to Croner.
The disparity may reflect a lack of knowledge or commitment to occupational health among employers in sectors that rely more on part-time working. Employers generally may be less effective in promoting occupational health programmes to their part-time staff; in the survey they are more likely than full-time employees to say they do not know what benefits are on offer. Or it could be that some employers see health benefits more as a perk than a duty. Where they are provided, occupational health services may not be seen as adequate.
Fewer than half the full-time staff surveyed (49%) agree that their employer is proactive in preventing ill health in the workplace. For part-timers, the proportion is 38%. This means that sizeable minorities within both groups are united in disapproval of their employers’ approach to occupational health: nearly one in every three (31%) full-time employees says their employer is not proactive, even more than part-timers (28%). But many people working part-time have no view, or could be guarded, on the question: one in three either does not know whether their employer is proactive (24%) or would rather not say (10%).
Preventing ill health in the workplace, so far as is reasonably practicable, is the responsibility of both employer and employee. Croner’s research shows that more than six in ten (62%) of full-time workers accept this joint responsibility, while this majority drops slightly (to 56%) among part-timers. More significantly perhaps, almost one in three (30%) part-time workers expects their employer to shoulder most responsibility for occupational health, compared with less than one in four (23%) of their full-time counterparts.
Awareness of the different types of ill health common in the workplace is similar in both groups. However, slightly more part-time workers (68%) identify stress as the work-related health issue that has the most new cases per year, compared with full-time employees (59%).
“These findings on occupational health provision raise several concerns,” says Stephen Thomas, Safety Technical Consultant at Croner. “Employers have a duty of care to ensure, to a reasonable extent, the health and safety of all their employees, whether they are full- or part-time. And that is true for preventing ill health in the workplace as much as for preventing accidents.” Mr Thomas continues: “Furthermore, it would seem that a large number of workers are not satisfied with the occupational health services their employer provides. Croner urges employers to consider whether their workforce would benefit from more diverse services by consulting with their workers. And occupational health is a business benefit too. Investing in useful, proactive health surveillance, monitoring and support can not only help individuals but also prevent lost working time and productivity.”