Why promote and support health at work?
Research shows that working is good for your health and mental well-being and occupational health professionals help people stay in work and live full and healthy lives. They also help employers by reducing sickness absence and increasing productivity.
Having access to occupational health professionals isn’t just good for individuals and businesses; it’s good for us as a society. We know the UK faces some fundamental challenges to a sustainable healthcare and welfare system – and the financial pressure on the NHS and pensions budget is unprecedented. We have an ageing population and a growing crisis with obesity and diabetes. The UK population will rise by almost 10 million over the next 25 years, according to official estimates.
The majority of adults spend a significant amount of time in work, and with the rising pension age we will work for longer than previous generations. This presents an opportunity to influence peoples health for the better by improving their health at work.
Occupational Health focuses on keeping people well at work – physically and mentally. The specialty focuses on:
- maximising people’s opportunities to benefit from healthy and rewarding work while not putting themselves or others at unreasonable risk;
- the elimination of preventable injury and illness caused or aggravated by work
- advising about workplace safety;
- helping to rehabilitate those who have suffered injury or sickness back into work.
What can be done to improve the occupational health offer within the UK?
Investing in Occupational Health in the workplace is essential if we want to improve the health of the UK population. Many organisations understand this and leading the way in investing in Occupational Health.
But more can be done to promote Occupational health.
We call for:
Education providers and commissioners:
To provide training for all physicians in the positive relationship between work and physical and mental health, whatever their primary specialty. Training in occupational health for all physicians should be in undergraduate training, postgraduate training and continuing professional development. Alongside this, awareness for the ‘Fit for Work’ scheme needs to increase.
To increase training places to meet the demand for the next generation of occupational health physicians – otherwise we face a crisis across the sector. As the demand for occupational health specialists increases - Health Education England and other education commissioners in the UK need to increase funding for trainees specialising in occupational health. Otherwise this growing and clearly important need within the UK population will not be met.
NHS England and health commissioners:
To include work as a health outcome, integrated into performance indicators for clinical interventions. Health outcomes should assess whether it helped a patient return to work. Measuring return to work and return to function is long overdue. Until 'return to work' is seen as a clinical outcome, clinicians are unlikely to see it as a goal.
To create incentives to encourage investment in healthy workplaces and the uptake of occupational health and wellbeing initiatives. Tax relief for Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) should be retained and the benefits of such programmes to be more widely promoted. The limit of £500 expenditure per employee per year should be removed and there should be exclusion from tax exemption of associated costs, such as specialist equipment, workplace adjustments and travel expenses. There is scope to remove the tax liability for a wide range of occupational health and wellbeing interventions aimed at preventative workplace health risk management, promoting work attendance and effective rehabilitation back to work. Employers currently have to wait for 28 days to refer to Fit for Work and there is the potential to reduce this so that they can have rapid access to the Government service.
To work with employers to develop workplace health insurance products
To invest in occupational health and access occupational medicine physicians who can create healthy and productive work and workplaces and reduce the risk of harm from badly designed or managed work and workplaces.
Creating a partnership across Occupational Health, the Society of Occupational Health and the Faculty of Occupational Health are working together to promote the role of Occupational Health. We want to make it easier for businesses, especially SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to invest in occupational health services, make sure the pathways are in place to help those out of work to successfully return to employment and stay there and make sure there are enough trained Occupational Health professionals to support this.
What we are doing
Raising the standard and quality of occupational medicine and health practice;
Improving access to good occupational health services (including accredited physicians);
- Fit for Work service
Increasing the numbers currently training in occupational medicine and health;
Offering training in Occupational Health to GPs and health practioners