There are many strong arguments to support an organisational focus on occupational health (often described as “the promotion and maintenance of physical and mental wellbeing of all staff and the prevention of ill health”). It is undoubtedly in an organisation’s interest to look after the health of its staff, who are a key (and costly) resource. Where would an organisation be if its staff became too ill to work?
Organisations have a duty to look after the people they employ whilst they are at work. Employers’ responsibilities are also set out in legislation, meaning that organisations that don’t comply with protecting the health and wellbeing of workers may face costly legal come-backs that could damage their reputation.
Therefore the benefits to employers of focusing on occupational health are clear – perhaps the most tangible (and measurable) benefit being staff productivity. Healthy, happy employees are more likely to be productive, so looking after workers’ health is paramount to ensuring organisational success. This can be ensured by achieving some of the main aims of occupational health:
- Preventing work-related ill health.
- Promoting the wellbeing of workers.
- Ensuring that the work environment and work practices are assessed and modified to the needs of individuals, where necessary.
- Managing health related risks in the workplace.
What about the benefits for employees? Undoubtedly people want to work in safe environments. Even those who love their jobs would not want to work in an environment that poses uncontrolled risks to their health. If risks are managed at work then people can continue to work safely, and there is much to be gained from remaining in work in terms of financial standing, improved self-esteem and confidence.
Most employers are experts in their own field, but aren’t specialists in the area of occupational health. For this reason, occupational health is a specialism in itself, run by professionals who have an understanding of working environments and health. Occupational health professionals are also able to take an unbiased view of situations in order to decide whether there are risks to a person’s health or not.
Many organisations, particularly smaller ones, do not have an in-house occupational health department. This is why the Fit for Work website offers free, professional advice to employers, employees and GPs about work-related health. In addition, the Fit for Work referral service is rolling out across England and Wales over the coming months, which allows employed people who have been, or are likely to be, off work for four weeks or more to be referred for an occupational health assessment in order to identify obstacles that are preventing them from returning to work.