COVID-19 has highlighted the importance to both the economy and public health of effectively managing workplace health. Yet, according to the Society for Occupational Medicine (SOM), only half of the UK population has access to occupational health (OH).
In the light of the COVID-19 crisis, SOM is calling for swift action to ensure the UK population has access to OH advice and assessment. They see this as an opportunity to positively influence the health and wellbeing of the working population and the prosperity of the UK.
Making the economic argument for access to occupational health for all employers
In their press release SOM points out that the current high costs of ill health and absence from work are unsustainable for individuals, businesses and governments. And that there is a strong economic case to implement access to OH for all employers.
Currently, health and wellbeing costs to employers are made up not only of the immediate impact of absenteeism, under-performance and liability. Increased costs of benefits and healthcare treatment should also be taken into consideration, as well as the fact that many individuals are sadly experiencing limited productive economic lives.
SOM states that evidence shows implementing access to OH for employers can significantly increase revenue and reduce costs. It could also support employees back to work and keep them in work safely during these challenging times.
In support of SOM’s campaign a spokesperson from Rolls Royce said: “In the post-pandemic world there will be greater scrutiny and expectation from stakeholders including investors, regulators and current and prospective employees to understand what organisations are doing about the health, safety and wellbeing of their workers”.
“Occupational Health is ideally placed to fulfill these expectations. There is a strong economic case to implement access to OH for all employers. OH services are key in supporting employees back to work and keeping them in work safely during these challenging times”
Supporting workplace mental health
Early research shows that many returning to work during the COVID-19 crisis will return with depleted mental health. SOM points out that OH services have been proven to enable those on sick leave due to mental health problems to return to work successfully.
They argue that by investing in OH, the government can support employers to safeguard their workforce and manage risks. They suggest however that consultation with and involvement of workers or their representatives regarding the provision of OH activity is also important.
Management of workplace health risks
SOM states that the management of workplace health risks consists of these essential elements:
- Responsibility by employers to effectively manage health risks that may enter the workplace;
- A precautionary and preventative approach, looking at hierarchy of controls to minimise the need for personal protection and individual healthcare interventions;
- The vital role of occupational health to manage and limit the impact to the individual, the workplace and society.
- A focus on occupational hygiene in the sense of designing out health risks that impoverish and undermine business;
Health is everyone’s business
A key ask from SOM is that the Government delivers on the Health is everyone’s business consultation e.g.:
- Health Education England and its equivalents in the devolved administrations invest in training of OH professionals such as OH nurses and specialist medical training posts
- There should be investment in expert OH advice in government, the establishment of an OH national data set and UKRI investment in a research Centre for Health and Work to translate evidence into policy
- Tax incentives by the Treasury so employers can invest in occupational health
- Access to OH for GPs
- A National Clinical Director for Work and Health to lead this work.
SOM asked the Government when they plan to publish a White Paper in response to the Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss consultation, which closed on 7 October 2019; and what plans they have to include in any such White Paper proposals to reduce the costs of ill health and absence from work for (1) individuals, and (2) businesses.
Baroness Stedman-Scott responded: “We plan to publish the response to the consultation ‘Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss’ later this year. The consultation set out proposals to encourage all employers to take positive action to support employees who are managing health conditions in work, and to manage sickness absence more effectively.
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To lend their voices to this campaign, SOM and partners are encouraging members and interested parties to write to their MP using the attached letter as a basis.
Mark Pigou Co-founder of MAD World and Make A Difference Media said: “Our mission is to ensure every employer has access to the insights and tools they need to make a real difference to workplace mental health and wellbeing. We welcome this campaign from SOM which prioritises practical measures, precaution and prevention, and look forward to hearing the Government’s response”.
About the author
Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times