You are here

Back to top


by Dr Richard Heron

Our health is always with us. We track it with phone apps, talk about it with friends and family and make toasts to it on special occasions. And just like people on the whole, our health fluctuates and changes from day to day, week to week and year to year.

Sometimes we are in excellent health, untroubled by the events around us and performing at our best at home and at work. At other times our physical or mental health can take a dip. We may be troubled or stressed by events that are out of our control, or our physical health can be impaired by a strain or sprain.

Small problems can knock our confidence, as we find it more difficult to think or move as easily as before. At the other end of the spectrum, up to one in four of us each year may need additional help to address a more serious mental health problem such as anxiety or depression, or we might develop a more complex physical illness that needs clinical attention.

Most of us wouldn’t think twice about discussing a broken arm or bout of flu with a colleague, but we find it much more difficult to talk about our mental health at work. This is why Mental Health Awareness Week is so important. 

This week provides a helpful reminder to normalise the conversation about mental health and to reduce the stigma associated with mental ill health. For many people the majority of their waking hours are spent at work, making the workplace an important setting to address mental as well as physical health matters. 

When it comes to mental health, starting a simple conversation with a colleague we are worried about demonstrates that we have noticed them and that we care. It could be the first step towards getting them the help they need, to addressing factors in the workplace that could help or hinder recovery and for some it could even be a life-saver.

Whenever we are stricken by illness or face the more difficult moments in our lives, the importance of empathy, by someone who genuinely cares, putting themselves in our shoes and listening to us without judgement cannot be underestimated. 

Could this someone be you, a friend, a co-worker or a manager? Could you help someone make that first call to an Employee Assistance Programme or occupational health professional if you have one at work? Early interventions can help co-workers back to health and help them to stay engaged in productive work – a healthy outcome for employee and employer alike.

For more information we recommend:


Early bird registration now open for Occupational Health 2018

Early bird registration is now open for the upcoming Occupational Health 2018 conference. The multidisciplinary event of the year, run jointly by the Society and Faculty of Occupational Medicine, will be coming to London’s Regent’s University from 25th–27th June.


The conference boasts an excellent lineup of expert speakers, including Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work Sarah Newton MP, Dame Carol Black, Professor Neil Greenberg, Professor Gina Radford, Professor Diana Kloss MBE and Professor Craig Jackson.


This year’s programme is the most multidisciplinary yet, with speakers from across occupational health and beyond:


  • Mark Armour, Chair, ACPOHE
  • Lucy Kenyon, President, AOHNP
  • Dr Emer McGilloway, BSRM
  • Peter Cheese, CEO, CIPD
  • Christina Butterworth, Chair, FOHN
  • Dr Roxane Gervais, immediate past Chair of the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology

Alongside these big names are sessions covering ethical practice, menopause, shift work, respiratory disease, fitness to drive and much more. The conference also boasts a hands-on HAVS masterclass led by Drs Jon Poole, Ian Lawson and Roger Cooke, where delegates will have the opportunity to develop their skills in a practical setting.


Beyond the main programme, there are unique workplace visits to Transport for London (TfL) sites across the city; social events and networking opportunities; a buddy scheme for first-time attendees; the annual conference gala dinner, this year in the heart of London Zoo; and intimate ‘meet the expert’ sessions.


Why attend?


  • Huge programme of clinical and practical sessions
  • Truly multidisciplinary conference for all OH professionals
  • World-class speakers
  • Special entry to TfL properties
  • Networking and social events in a friendly, welcoming atmosphere
  • All set against the splendour of Regent’s Park

Early bird registration, alongside special rates for nurses, physiotherapists, trainees and students, is open now. Register before 15th May to secure your place at the best price.


Full details of the programme, venue and recommended accommodation are available on the OH 2018 website. 


We look forward to seeing you in London from 25th–27th June.


FOM and SOM welcome new report into 'good work'

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the Society of Occupational Medicine have welcomed the publication of ‘Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices’. The report presents the findings of a six-month review, commissioned by the Government in October 2016 and led by RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor.

As well as providing an overview of recent changes in the labour market and proposing a range of regulatory reforms, The Taylor Review makes several recommendations relating to health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Taylor argues that “quality work is strongly linked to better health outcomes for individuals”, adding that “good work not only enables people to support themselves and their families financially but with the right kind of support, from employers and others, work has a positive impact on health and well-being”. He concludes that “the shape and content of work and individual health and well-being are strongly related. For the benefit for firms, workers and the public interest we need to develop a more proactive approach to workplace health”.

Developing this theme, ‘Good Work’ finds that there is a lack of emphasis on supporting people to remain in and return to the workplace. He calls for greater efforts to publicise existing Government initiatives such as Access to Work and the Fit for Work service and for more “effective joined up working between various agencies”, with a particular emphasis on the role of local authorities and new devolved institutions.

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the Society of Occupational Medicine are supportive of the proposed review of Statutory Sick Pay and welcome the recognition that “employers should do more to support those able to return to work to do so, above and beyond any legal requirements to make reasonable adjustments. What is more, those who are sick should not see their job lost or long-term career damaged”.

Commenting on the report, Chief Executive of the Society of Occupational Medicine, Nick Pahl, said that:

“It is pleasing to see the Taylor Review recognise the importance of workplace health. It is our belief that investing in occupational health in the workplace is essential if we want to improve the health of the UK population. Having access to occupational health professionals isn’t just good for individuals and businesses; it is good for us as a society.”

Judith Willetts, Chief Executive of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine added:

“Occupational health is uniquely placed amongst medical specialties to enhance the productivity of the nation whilst keeping workers healthy and safe. We recognise the need for a more coordinated approach and occupational health professionals are ideally placed to ‘join-up’ service access and advice between individuals, their health care professionals and their employers.”


The Faculty of Occupational Medicine & the Society of Occupational Medicine respond to the ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’ Green Paper

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) & the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) welcome the focus this green paper brings to the future direction of our economy, with its focus on productivity, growth and skills.

We applaud the paper’s focus on ensuring our young people develop the skills required to do the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future, but there is not enough focus in the paper on ensuring our current workforce can stay healthy, improve productivity and contribute to the economy.

Employee health and wellbeing contributes to successful business performance and we know that highly effective companies commit to a culture of health.

Read the full response.




SOM and FOM response to Improving Lives: the Work, Health and Disability Green Paper

Consultation event

On Friday 17th February SOM and FOM submitted our joint response to Improving Lives: The Work, Health and Disability Green Paper.

This followed a series of events with our members and stakeholders, from a round table hosted with Lord Blunkett in the House of Lords to a number of multi-disciplinary meetings - one of which was delivered with the Health and Work Unit as a formal part of their consultation.  We also did an online survey encouraging all our members to input and thank you to those who took the time to do so!  There were a lot of questions so we really appreciate it.

The paper will now move towards a white paper allowing the government to set out their proposals for future legislation.  We very much hope the paper will reflect our suggestions and use this opportunity to really make a difference to the employment prospects of those with a disablity or long term health condition. 



The Faculty of Occupational Medicine and Society of Occupational Medicine welcome the Government green paper on work and disability

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine and Society of Occupational Medicine welcome the Government green paper on work and disability which aims to address barriers to access to the workplace.

The Faculty of Occupational Medicine and Society of Occupational Medicine welcome plans announced by the Government to consult on their Improving lives: work, health and disability green paper. This paper aims to halve the disability employment gap and make changes to work capability assessments. We especially welcome the acknowledgement in the green paper that work is in itself a ‘health outcome’.

We share the Government’s dismay that less than half (48%) of disabled people are in employment – over 7 million people in the UK. We know that good work is good for health and employment should be available to all.

Part of the consultation includes a review of GP fit notes to support workers back into their jobs faster, and for longer. We spoke out earlier this year against calls for the period for self-certification to be extended to 14 days and hope that this review will focus on strengthening GP and health professionals’ understanding of occupational health to support patients to return to work successfully.

Dr Sally Coomber, SOM President said:
“We are keen to work with the DWP and DH over the next few months, as they consult on the green paper, so we can develop better occupational health support right across the health and work journey.

At the heart of this must be an accredited and quality assured multi-disciplinary occupational health workforce. Therefore the recent GMC report showing an 11% reduction is specialist occupational physicians between 2011 and 2015 is worrying and the decline in trainee number must be addressed urgently. ”

Dr Richard Heron, FOM President, said:
“I am delighted to see that our efforts to see work as a health outcome are being recognised in government. We support the ambition to develop a system where healthcare professionals recognise the value of a referral for occupational health advice.

However, while “Fit for Work” is a step in the right direction, there is still a way to go before we can say all employees have timely access to safe, effective and quality assured occupational health support which puts the individual and their health circumstances at the heart of a support-tailored programme. There also needs to be workforce capacity to deliver this tailored support.”

We will be consulting with our members and key stakeholders to respond to the green paper.


I know I’m sick… but I have to keep going

We all need a degree of pressure to get us up in the morning, but for each of us there is a point when the nature and quantity of the demands we face will outstrip our body’s capacity.

Hillary Clinton recently provided a stark reminder of this, collapsing at work with pneumonia. Jonathan Brownlee collapsed with dehydration at the end of his triathlon and we now hear that four of five doctors-in-training reports that their job causes them excessive stress and that three-quarters go through at least one shift a month without drinking enough.

As a patient, I do not wish to be harmed by “heroic” healthcare staff presenting to work with an infection they might pass on to me, or having to work dehydrated.  As a member of the public I do not wish to be the passive recipient of impaired political judgements made by sick or over-fatigued decision-makers. More than ever “Great care” is needed at times of economic pressure to avoid situations where personal performance is so reduced that the costs of being at work outstrip the benefits good work bring for worker and organisation alike.

As occupational physicians, we care about your work and your health; and it is our role to point out the emperor’s new clothes to workers and employers alike when we see them!

This is not always comfortable, but it is what occupational physicians have done for generations - reducing previously tolerated workplace hazards such as asbestos, lead and noise. And the impact of work on health and health on work remains a major challenge, especially as our workforce ages. Ageing brings with it increasing susceptibilities to workplace hazards, as well as chronic conditions to contend with at work.

On the face of it judgements about work and health appear simple. We expect to arrive at work, fit for the tasks that we are expected to complete, not be harmed by them and often feel we (the workers) are best placed to make that determination. However, multiple factors from knowledge gaps, organisational pressures, worker-manager relationships (workplace culture) together with out of work issues make that the determination more complex. Rarely is this a topic we are able to discuss with a work-health professional.  These are situations when occupational physicians add value. We assess the complex, multifactorial determinants of wellness; understand work demands/workplace risks and exposures; translate evidence-based, credible advice about what an employee can do into language they, and their manager, feel comfortable with; and most importantly have our advice trusted by both.

According to the HSE labour force survey there have been almost a quarter of a million cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety each year for the last decade (ref: ) .  The suggestion that most mental health problems at work can be best addressed by “simple” mindfulness and yoga is a myth which only fuels the market for attractive, non-evidence based silver bullets to solve complex problems.  Occupational Health practitioners must assess and persuade management to mitigate the many organisational factors that may pre-dispose to mental health issues, and support employees when the sources of distress are non-occupational. 

Addressing the most complex needs of the few, through to the most prevalent needs of the many, calls for seamless, clinically-lead, multidisciplinary team working nurses, physiotherapists, case managers, psychologists, and more.  Only when such teams are efficiently deployed are the best health and work outcomes delivered.  This could be done efficiently with modest transformational investment and reconfiguration of services provided by the NHS to enable GPs and employers to access the services they need to best serve their patients and employees.

As with almost every other branch of health and care in the UK, occupational medicine is facing a sustainability crisis. Already thin on the ground, over half the UK’s occupational physicians are over 55 and a third over 60. Unless the pipeline is refreshed, and quickly, the costs will start to increase for each of us as individuals and employers in the next decade.  This will be just as our ageing population will need us most. The NHS, increasingly challenged to attract and retain healthcare workers, and HM Treasury, looking to increase the productivity of the UK economy, will face critical challenges.

As a Faculty we can and do lobby hard for more resourcing, more training posts and better routes of access to care. As Occupational Physicians, the time could not be more urgent to demonstrate the value we bring, and the needs we can address for a healthier and more productive public and private sector workforce of any age.

Dr Richard Heron President Faculty of Occupational Medicine


Why occupational medicine is important to my work as a GP - and the opportunities afforded me by the DOccMed

In the early 1990s, as a medical student in a large Scottish teaching hospital, I asked a patient, " What is your occupation?  I was cautioned by the teaching consultant to treat every patient the same way: to ask a patient's occupation was risking a prejudicial approach to the practice of medicine.

How different the Italian father of occupational medicine, Bernardino Ramazzini (1633-1714) who advised:

‘ When you come to a patient’s house, you should ask him what sort of  pains he has, what caused them, how many days he has been ill, whether the bowels are working and what sort of food he eats.  So  says Hippocrates in his work Affections.  I may venture to add one more question: what occupation does he follow?  

  [ De Morbis Artificum Diatriba ‘Diseases of Workers’, 1700 ]

It was after attending the Glasgow diploma in occupational medicine course (DOccMed) ten years later - some fifteen years ago - that I began routinely asking patients my two favourite questions:

What is your job? and Can you describe what you actually do?

I believe having the DOccMed has made me a better GP.  And being a GP (of the self-employed, independent contractor variety - with employees) has given me experience of the commoner clinical and employment scenarios I’m presented with in occupational medicine.  Our attached medical students from Aberdeen University also get a taster of what it's like to have a portfolio career.

The DOccMed has opened up a number of avenues beyond routine NHS work, which makes my professional life as a doctor varied and more interesting.  I've been an Approved Doctor with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for ten years, doing health surveillance medicals for merchant seafarers.  I also provide independent medical assessments for the motor car repairs industry, and Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) assessments - mainly for workers in the electric power sector, and also for whisky distillery workers.  I work two half days in occupational medicine per week - as does another GP in my practice.  The fees companies typically pay are reasonable, and enough to keep other GPs in the partnership sweet.  

In the past, I did routine medicals for off-shore oil and gas workers; assessed bus and coach drivers; provided pre-employment and sickness absence medicals for a large call centre; was occupational physician to a large Highland estate; and I have seen employees from various National Care Home providers.  

Despite the detailed knowledge and breadth of skills required for practising Occupational Medicine, the specialism is sometimes dismissed, by Hospitalists and GPs alike, typically as Occy Health . Perhaps somewhere you go for your hep B vaccinations?  Regardless, I have successfully encouraged two Highland GPs into obtaining the diploma, and another two are currently committed to Faculty of Occupational Medicine approved DOccMed courses this year.  I have also advised these GPs to join the Society of Occupational Medicine to support their development through the DOccMed, and beyond.  For those of you on Twitter, I’d recommend following the faculty @FOMNews and the society @SOMNews.  The respective websites are and .

A final anecdote.  In May this year, I witnessed a motivational exchange during the Glasgow Occupational Lead Exposure Surveillance course.  A GP introduced herself as " dipping a toe " into occupational health, to which Professor Ewan Macdonald spontaneously replied:

" Welcome to what is undoubtedly the most interesting branch of medicine! "

So says Professor Macdonald.  I may venture to add one more encouragement to all GPs:

... and Occupational Health is especially rewarding when combined with your role as a General Practitioner. ”


By Dr Iain Kennedy (GP and Occupational Physician, Inverness)



What is Occupational Medicine?

Would I recommend GPs take up an interest in Occupational Medicine (OM)? Absolutely. There are already around 1,500 GPs practising in the specialty, with over 1,000 achieving the Faculty of Occupational Medicine’s Diploma in Occupational Medicine. At least half of the Specialist (Consultant) Occupational Physicians I’ve met started out as a GP. The attraction of the field is easily illustrated: in my 13 years with a part time practice in OM I’ve known many full-time specialists who ‘used to be a GP’, but I’m still to meet a GP who used to be a specialist occupational physician! It is clearly an attractive, and sometimes lucrative, field of work.

My interest to occupational health (OH) was down to a chance introduction in my first practice. We were close to a new warehouse and distribution park in the East Midlands, and the first companies setting up there needed pre-employment medicals, particularly for their LGV drivers. As time went on more and more HR managers came to us to carry out statutory medicals and sickness absence assessments, and within a year or two around 10% of the practice income was from this line of work.

What is Occupational Medicine?

Occupational Medicine covers the relationship between health and work. The focus is to ensure that workplaces and work practices are safe and not detrimental to employees’ health, and that employees are fit for the job they are doing. If there are problems the occupational physician’s role is to advise on workplace adjustments and to give appropriate advice and support.

The traditional model of OH has an important role to rehabilitate people back into work after sickness or injuries. However the improving safety culture in the UK, together with an increasingly aging and ‘stressed’ workforce, means that our role is increasingly to help people with long term conditions or mental health problems to stay at work and manage their symptoms within the context of employment.

What are the attractions?

The pace of work is a welcome relief compared to the 10 minute appointments and rushed visits in primary care. A typical appointment would be for 30-45 minutes and allows time to explore a case in detail. There is certainly the feeling that your opinion is important and holds great value for the person you see and the company they work for. I enjoy the close working relationship with an HR manager that develops and the opportunity to understand a whole new culture in the world of businesses. The importance of work to an individual’s health and wellbeing is well understood, so the ability to really make a difference to keep someone in work can be very rewarding.

What are the challenges?

The switch from an advocacy role to one of impartiality is probably the main challenge for GPs. Also, while there are no statutory requirements, I would agree with most in the field that formal training should be a requirement to ensure good practice towards the guiding principles of OH. The Diploma in Occupational Medicine is awarded by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, and this provides GPs with the extra competencies to understand the effects of work on health, assessment of fitness for work, health surveillance, rehabilitation, workplace visits, ethics and the law.

Setting up a client base can be difficult. Like me, many GPs find a demand for work from local organisations almost by accident. Word of mouth and local contacts have been the main source of new work for many of us. Some GPs also work with local NHS OH departments, or one of the number of number of national OH ‘agencies’, who are always on the lookout for GPs with the Diploma.

I’d urge any GP to diversify into OM. It has been a rewarding and challenging experience for me, and one which I would recommend to anyone.


Dr Rob Hampton, MB ChB, MRCGP, DRCOG, DOccMed

Subscribe to RSS - FOM