In many people’s minds, Occupational Health is associated with identifying and reducing risks to employee wellbeing and safety posed by their role. Those people with jobs which involve heavy lifting, for instance, maybe at risk of developing back or musculoskeletal problems. People who use industrial equipment could be at greater risk of eye or other physical injuries than their colleagues whom, for example, work in office-based roles.
For sure, Occupational Health and Safety does involve reducing the risks associated with different types of work but these days, it has a much broader remit. It can be key to assisting people back to work after periods of absences and help employers protect themselves in the event of any disputes. In a year when small business owners are facing so many challenges, self-protection and supporting employees is essential.
To understand Occupational Health and its relevance to UK small businesses in the current circumstances, we talked to Sally White, Director of SYLO Beyond HR, an award-winning provider of HR and People Support services. This includes not only ensuring the wellbeing of the employees but also proving support for employers too.
Occupational Health is a specialist branch of medicine that focuses on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace. Occupational practitioners are medical and healthcare professionals (mostly doctors and nurses) with specialist areas of expertise.
They work with the people responsible for HR and people management in organisations of every size to provide impartial advice that supports employees and helps employers understand people’s issues.
HR and business managers then use this information to develop programs such as Employee Assistance Plans which support people who may be at risk, are suffering from existing issues or returning to work after a period of absence.
By engaging with Occupational Health practitioners, businesses can take both a proactive and reactive approached to employee health and safety which, in turn, reduce absences, increases engagement and boosts productivity.
What can Occupational Health provide to employers?
Is Occupational Health for SMEs or large organisations?
It’s for both. Yes, there are costs associated with Occupational Health practitioners and at a time when many smaller companies in particular are struggling with cash-flow, these may see like an unnecessary financial burden. But the reality is, occupational health can help businesses reduce costs and ensure their people are working happily and productively at a time when their efforts are so key to business recovery.
The business case for Occupational Health
Prior to the pandemic taking hold, the Society of Occupational Medicine (SoM) published a report which built the case for Occupational Health demonstrated the value it can bring. Helpfully, SoM’s report lists the direct and indirect costs associated with sickness absences, which is something often overlooked companies.
Sally White comments: “By engaging with occupational health professionals to support employees, businesses can avoid many of costs related to absenteeism, especially in cases where an employee is on long-term sick-leave.
“Although there are costs associated with investing in Occupational Health, these are often a fraction of what businesses need to spend if employee physical and mental problems go unchecked. Monitoring and really understanding absences has always been important but probably never more so than now.”
Why is Occupational Health so important at the moment?
Sally explains:, “We’re seeing a significant increase in the number of our clients whose employees who are suffering from various health issues as a result of the pandemic.
“In some cases, these are related to the physical symptoms of COVID-19 itself, but it is also important to think about the psychological toll of the virus.
“This applies to people with friends and family who have been affected as well as those who themselves have become infected and are in the recovery process.”
Recording health related documents
Sally also recommends that business managers use a system like Breathe to record and store documents related to Occupational Health related assessments. This is key for effective absence monitoring and helps form a platform for fact based, and supportive discussions with employees.
“Not only is it good practice to store all employees related information securely in a single place, it means directors will have easy access to information if unfortunately, a dispute arises. In effect, employers can create and store an audit-trail of all documents and communications which can be easily referenced at any time,” she concludes.