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East Midlands Chamber News

Getting the most out of your occupational health service

By Naomi Vanlint, BSc, MSc Managing Director of Chamber member, Prospérité Occupational Health Limited

In this article I will briefly explore what ideal occupational health provision should include to ensure that you are getting the most out of this service. Occupational health provision should not merely be a tick-box exercise, rather, when applied correctly, it can significantly improve the productivity and overall wellbeing of your workforce, which in turn can have a significant impact on profitability and the quality of work produced. Please note that the information provided in this article applies regardless of the size of your occupational health provider or the size of your organisation (for example, just because you are a SME that doesn’t mean you should expect a lower quality of service from your occupational health provider).

What is the scope of occupational health?

Occupational health can provide your organisation with a wide range of services beyond the usual declaration of fitness for work and mandatory health surveillance. When utilised to the fullest, occupational health can have a significant impact on your organisation. A good occupational health provider will be able to provide you with CMO (chief medical officer) advice and guidance, by acting as your primary point of contact regarding all health and wellbeing matters that may arise within your organisation.

What is a CMO? 

A CMO, in the occupational health domain, is a medical doctor who is able to provide you with advice and guidance on the following: Medico-legal matters e.g. through the provision of advice/reports, to help your organisation/your organisation’s legal team in cases of employee(s) pursuing/considering legal action on health grounds; Assisting with various health-and-safety-related matters in liaison with your organisation’s health-and-safety officer; Providing you with advice and guidance on policies and procedures related to health and wellbeing in the workplace (including making you aware of any relevant changes in government policy/legislation); Providing you with advice on contingency plans and recommendations for any incidents/near misses relating to accidental exposure to ionising radiation and all manner of substances hazardous to health;  Advising you if you are unsure as to whether you are fulfilling your duties towards your employee(s) in terms of the support you are offering; Providing complex-case management services (e.g. supporting you with employees who have complex health conditions/long-term sickness absence); Helping you to differentiate between employees who have genuine health concerns and those who don’t; as well as supporting you with general absence/case management, fitness for work, health surveillance, etc.

Utilising all that occupational health has to offer can significantly improve the overall working environment alongside the overall wellbeing and productivity of your workforce.

What does a quality report look like?

Most of the output from occupational health comes in the form of a report. As such, it is important to ensure that the reports that you receive are comprehensive and provide you with sufficient knowledge in order for you to be able to make informed choices/decisions. The author of any report should be on-hand to answer any queries that you may have, regardless of the time-lapse.

Reports should be fully interpreted and written in a language that is easy to understand. Furthermore, occupational health reports should not dictate to you what you must and must not do. It should be noted that all occupational health recommendations are advisory only and it is for the employing organisation to determine what they can/cannot accommodate, factoring in aspects such as profitability, feasibility, suitability, etc. 

Management reports (e.g. absence/case-management) should not just inform you whether an employee is fit or not fit for their role. Where an employee is not fit, they should include: an estimate as to when they would be expected to be fit (i.e. based on the course of the symptoms to date or on the expected outcome of potential treatment); whether their condition is likely to be long-term or not; and whether the employee is likely to be able to return to their role or whether alternative roles may need to be considered. Reports that just state not yet fit refer back in x months’ time are often of little value to the employer and can also incur additional costs. For example, if an employee is likely to require a further 6 months until they would be able to attempt a return to work, the occupational practitioner recommending to see them on a monthly basis will be a waste of your money, and may make it more difficult for you to arrange temporary cover, etc. Furthermore, where adjustments may be required in order to facilitate an employee carrying out the main duties of their role, it should be clear whether these would be required permanently or temporarily, etc.

Finally, an extremely important section that is often missed off from occupational health reports is an analysis as to whether the doctor believes that the employee is getting the correct/most effective medical care for their condition. The reason why this is such an important section is down to the fact that an employee who is not on the correct treatment pathway is not only likely to suffer with their health, they are also likely to provide a less effective and reliable service. By not commenting on an employee’s treatment, a doctor would essentially not be fulfilling the common goal with the employer, which is to ensure a healthy and productive workforce, as far as is reasonably possible.

In summary, occupational health, when used correctly and to its fullest, can be a very valuable tool to any organisation. Occupational health reports are all technically medicolegal reports that demonstrate the steps that your organisation has taken to ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of your employees and your compliance with government legislation. Poor or limited occupational health provision can result in needless time and money wasted which can have a significant impact on any business no matter what the size.