Employee health screening is a term used to describe a range of checks and tests that help identify risks to health and improve wellbeing among staff. They have the potential to benefit both employees and the organisations they work for:
- They offer lasting benefits to employees. A worker may be helped to overcome a niggling health problem or the tests may capture potentially more serious health issues early when they are easier to treat.
- Lifestyle advice and support (e.g. advice about smoking cessation) can reap long-term life-enhancing benefits.
- An organisation would benefit from supporting the health and wellbeing of the workforce, with the potential for lower levels of sickness and absenteeism. Fitter workers may also concentrate better and have higher levels of productivity too.
An organisation’s workforce is its most important asset, so it makes sense for managers to do what can be done to detect illness and promote health and wellbeing. And keeping employees healthy and productive arguably makes sound financial sense. According to the Office for National Statistics, an estimated 137.3 million working days were lost to sickness or injury in the UK in 2016 (an average of 4.3 days per worker per year). Furthermore, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) reported that staff sickness cost the British economy an estimated £15 billion in 2011.
There are a number of different forms of employee health screening, including:
- Pre-employment health checks – offered to new employees to identify any health issues that may require the employer to provide support.
- Health surveillance – ongoing health checks that may be required by law for employees exposed to particular substances or hazards in the workplace.
- NHS Health Checks – offered every five years to everybody in England aged 40-74.
- Health checks/lifestyle assessment – general health checks offered as part of a workplace wellness programme (the focus of this blog).
Health checks/lifestyle assessments usually comprise of a combination of tests, which aim to give an individual a general overview of their health status and help to detect disease or risk factors early. Any issues can then be followed up with a GP, which is important as many people may suspect that they have a health issue but have not undergone medical tests. Similarly, many people will be living without any idea they have a serious health issue. HeartUK states that more than half of adults in Britain have a raised cholesterol level (which can increase the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke) yet many are completely unaware of this fact. Workplace health checks might identify issues such as this and spur a person on to take action to protect their long-term health.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies eight key risks factors to health, all of which could be addressed in a health check:
- Drinking alcohol.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- High blood glucose.
- Poor diet.
- Lack of exercise.
Health checks could be provided through the NHS, a private medical provider, or as part of occupational health provision but should always be carried out by trained professionals who can offer good advice on next steps, as necessary. Furthermore, employees should be reassured that the results of tests will remain confidential.
Any group screening should also involve a report to the organisation with health trends across the workforce, average levels of health and fitness compared to national averages, etc. so that the company can review its working practices and use the information to improve the working environment.
There are a number of possible approaches to health checks (e.g. individual appointments or drop-in sessions). Organisations should choose the best option for them based on a number of factors, e.g. the size of the organisation, cost implications, the type of business and the pattern of work of employees. Individual appointments allow time for a comprehensive range of checks and tests to be carried out (e.g. cholesterol testing, BMI, blood glucose levels, blood pressure tests, etc.) and the chance for an employee to sit down in private and talk through the results with a trained professional. Drop-in sessions are quick and easy to arrange and less expensive for the employer than individual appointments. Each member of staff would be allocated a brief slot during which some basic tests could be carried out (e.g. BMI and blood pressure checks).
Employee health checks offer a variety of benefits both for organisations and the individuals who work for them.
Benefits to individuals:
- Access to health information.
- Reduced health risks.
- Improved performance.
- Better mental health.
Benefits to organisations:
- Reduced sickness absence levels.
- Greater staff satisfaction.
- Reduced turnover of staff.
- Improved productivity.
- Improved morale and loyalty amongst employees – health screening demonstrates that employers care about their staff and are dedicated to helping them stay healthy.
- Improved team-working.
Further advice on health and work
Support and guidance about work and health can be sought from Fit for Work, which offers free, online work-related health advice and guidance to anyone looking for advice and support about an existing case of sickness absence, or about issues that may result in sickness absence. Employed people who have been off work due to illness for four weeks or more can be referred for a telephone assessment with a Fit for Work case manager in order to identify all the obstacles preventing the person from returning to work. The Fit for Work case manager can also provide recommendations about how the obstacles can be addressed and to potentially enable an early return to work. Visit the Fit for Work website or call the free telephone advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh). There is a separate service running in Scotland (0800 019 2211).