The role of occupational health

If you’re experiencing ill health, nursing an injury or struggling with difficulties at home, your employer’s occupational health provider can support you. Not all employers provide, or have access to, occupational health services and must rely on information from your GP to help you to get back to, or remain, in work. In addition, work-related health information can be accessed via the Fit for Work website.

What is occupational health?

Occupational health is a specialist branch of medicine that focuses on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace.

The aim of occupational health is to prevent work-related illness and injury by:

  • encouraging safe working practices;
  • ergonomics (studying how you work and how you could work better);
  • monitoring the health of the workforce;
  • supporting the management of sickness absence.

An occupational health service might also:

  • work with your employer to implement policies and ensure health and safety compliance;
  • conduct pre-employment health assessments;
  • support health promotion and education programmes;
  • provide advice and counselling to employees around non-health-related problems;
  • provide your employer with advice and guidance around making reasonable adjustments to your working conditions.

How is occupational health provided?

Occupational health provision will depend on the size of your organisation. It can be provided by a nurse with occupational health training and a part-time doctor, or through a range of specialists, including:

  • physiotherapists;
  • hygienists;
  • psychologists;
  • ergonomic experts;
  • occupational therapists;
  • specialist occupational health nurses and doctors.

Occupational health is usually provided at an employee’s place of work, but if your employer does not have a dedicated service, you may need to travel to attend appointments with external providers.

My employer doesn’t have occupational health services

Many small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) do not have the size of workforce, or sufficient money, to sustain a dedicated occupational health service. For these reason, many SMEs use external occupational health providers as and when they need it to support their staff and carry out medicals and other occupational health assessments.

If you think you need occupational health services, you should always speak to your employer in the first instance to understand what services are available and how you can access them. Fit for Work offers guidance on work-related health issues, as well as referral (via your employer or GP) for a free occupational health assessment.

Find out how to use an occupational health service.