Tips for working with Occupational Health

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With the government recently launching a taskforce to improve Occupational Health provision, led by Dame Carol Black, OH is currently the talk of the wellbeing town.

Following on from this feature on how to get the best out of your OH provision, we put together this series of tips.

Is your perception of Occupational Health up to date?

Many people hold misperceptions of Occupational Health and the breadth of what the function now does.

Most associate it with referrals and health surveillance, but the more progressive OH providers do much more proactive, preventative work today.

According to Spire Occupational Health, for example, line manager training is a growth area, as is helping employers set out their wellbeing strategies and delivering workshops on specialist subjects like the menopause.

Could you use your OH provider in a more proactive way?

According to some OH providers, progressive clients are coming to them for MRIs and consultant psychiatry appointments, for example. These types of appointments typically have extremely long waiting lists via the NHS of around two years, so companies recognise the cost vs risk benefit of funding this directly and getting employees back to work as soon as possible. 

Other companies are funding screening for diseases like cancer in order to take early preventative action and future-proof their workforces. Yet more are encouraging employees to test their vital statistics in order to take control of their health and know where they are health-wise.

Pick the right provider 

One of OH’s roles is to demedicalise and demystify health conditions. It is not to baffle you with long medical words, or present what they do as a dark art with a high premium. If yours isn’t helping you simplify, demystify and find the best value course, you could be with the wrong provider.

Companies often have a knowledge gap when it comes to medical conditions at work because they are not clinicians; OH professionals, who are clinicians, should be helping you to plug this gap and empower you to deliver some of the small but impactful changes you can make, especially with regard to musculoskeletal and mental health (see here for more explanation on this).


Taking time off from work can be very damaging to an individual’s wellbeing and the longer someone is off, the more the risk of slipping into worklessness and the more the risk of going on longterm sick leave. Work has proven to have very beneficial affects on mental health, which is why Occupational Health is so important as a function to keep people well, or to get them back to work.

As one Chief Medical Officer at an occupational health provider says: “It is extraordinary how much of a lever to poor health being out of work is. Pretty much any condition you can think of is made worse by not being able to work. Life expectancy and disease rates are all impacted negatively by being out of work.”

This also highlights the need for early intervention to prevent this slide into ‘worklessness’. He adds: “Getting to grips with somebody who’s got a developing problem quickly, and nipping it in the bud, is so important. The longer you wait to start the ‘fixing’, the longer the ‘fix’ is going to take, and the more complicated it’s going to be.”

Occupational Health is not just about the money, it’s about caring and showing care

One OH professional we interviewed gives us the example of an employer he used to work for which offered breast screening to women from their 40s, bridging the gap to when the NHS started this screening at 50.

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“We didn’t find that many people who had breast cancer under the age of 50, but we did find some,” he says. “And when you found you could help someone in this situation, everyone thought so highly of the employer for providing that kind of service. It sent a clear message that this business really looks after people. It created a real sense of belonging and identity.”

Any health provision needs to be measured through the lens of evidence and clinical governance

One of the reasons behind the rise of occupational health is the fact that it’s so evidence based and that chosen treatments need to have a history of clinical success behind them.

Wellbeing is increasingly recognising the need for good measurement and calculating the ROI of OH provision is essential. According to one provider, his company provides at least a return of £5 for every pound spent.

But you don’t need a clinically trained person to be in charge

Wellbeing Directors, for example, who take the time and the trouble to find out what is clinically appropriate, and make sure that what is clinically appropriate is contained in their service, can oversee occupational health provision.

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