By Jonathan Hill, Team Leader at Fit for Work
What is Occupational Health Physiotherapy?
Physiotherapy is provided by specially trained and regulated practitioners called physiotherapists, who often work as part of a multi-disciplinary team in hospitals, GP surgeries, sports teams and the workplace. Physiotherapists who work to improve the health and wellbeing of workers so that they can do their jobs efficiently and effectively are called occupational health (OH) physiotherapists.
What do Occupational Health Physiotherapists do?
OH physiotherapists work in diverse settings including manufacturing, the NHS, the service industries, offices, retail, healthcare, ergonomics consultancies, public sector and private practice. They have a role in proactively promoting health and well-being in the work environment and can improve the safety, comfort and performance of the working population. This reduces accidents and sickness absence, and helps to improve productivity and performance.
Most (OH) physiotherapists are members of The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE) and provide a wide range of services to both employers and employees including:
- Physiotherapy treatment and rehabilitation of work-relevant injuries. This treatment is provided on site or in an off-site treatment centre;
- return to work planning;
- improving an employee’s tolerance to work gradually;
- educating others on injury prevention in the workplace;
- ergonomics workplace assessments (including DSE);
- health promotion;
- job task analysis and advice on modifications;
- occupational and vocational rehabilitation;
- functional capacity evaluations;
- helping employers meet their obligations under the Equality Act 2010;
- advice on compliance with Health and Safety obligations; specialist knowledge of manual handling and physical ergonomics in the office and workplace;
- communication and reporting in order to facilitate return to work.
There are significant benefits for both employers and employees in having OH physiotherapists in the workplace. By tackling problems or potential problems early on, the likelihood of them becoming long lasting is reduced. This improves the health and wellbeing of the working population, helps people stay in work and can result in costs savings for companies.
The cost of sickness absence
The cost of sickness to UK businesses and the economy is well documented. The 2011 Frost-Black report, which reviewed sickness absence, showed that:
- Sickness absence cost the economy around £15 billion annually, predominantly in lost economic output;
- £13 billion was spent on health related state benefits;
- long-term absence made up around 5% of all sickness absence spells, but accounted for almost half of total working days lost.
While a 2013 audit from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy stated that in the NHS, almost 40% of staff sickness absence is due to musculoskeletal conditions, e.g. back pain.
The benefits of being in employment
Evidence has shown that being in work can result in significant health improvements and increase the self-esteem of individuals. Work can also help people recover from sickness and reduces the risk of long term incapacity. The positive health effects of work mean that, if their condition permits, those with disabilities or chronic health issues should be supported to return to, or remain in, work.
Occupational health physiotherapists at Fit for Work
Employees who have been off work for longer than four weeks can ask their employer to refer them to Fit for Work for a free occupational health assessment. GPs can refer sooner than four weeks if they think the absence is likely to reach the four week mark.
Employers can refer their staff members to Fit for Work by visiting fitforwork.org/employer and clicking on ‘refer an employee’. GPs can visit fitforwork.org/general-practitioner and click on ‘refer a patient’. For more information on referrals, see this post.
Information about MSDs, occupational health risk assessments and health promotion, as well as on a vast array of other work health-related topics, can be found on the Fit for Work advice hub and blog. You can also call 0800 032 0635 (English) or 0800 032 0633 (Cymraeg) to speak to a dedicated advisor.
Those in Scotland can visit fitforworkscotland.scot or phone 0800 019 2211.