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Why we all need to be able to ask for help – like David in the Bodyguard

‘I’m David and I need some help’ – in the powerful penultimate scene of the BBCs bodyguard we see David, having saved the day, head into Occupational Health and ask for help.

Occupational Health is the backbone of a healthy workforce, and as we have seen in the Bodyguard – in many organisations they are there to support workers in the most extreme of circumstances. One third of all our Occupational Medicine trainee doctors train in the Armed Forces, supporting those who train for and experience armed conflict first hand. There are large occupational health teams in the Police, Transport for London and Fire Service.

Professor Neil Greenberg, a consultant occupational and forensic psychiatrist who served in the United Kingdom Armed Forces for more than 23 years and has deployed, as a psychiatrist and researcher, in a number of hostile environments including Afghanistan and Iraq says;

“Occupational health physicians play a vital role in supporting the mental health of employees. It is very common that employees are concerned about seeking help because they fear being stigmatised or viewed as being weak or incompetent. In the BBC’s the Bodyguard, David repeatedly turned down offers by his colleagues and managers for them to send him to occupational health.

Luckily for David, and of course the viewers, his mental health difficulties did not stop him from uncovering the wrongdoings of corrupt senior officers. However, in reality people who have substantial mental health problems often do not perform to the high standard that David did. Where employees trust occupational health services to ‘have their back’ and consider that the Occupational physician will help them fight their corner to get the treatment they need whilst safeguarding their jobs, everyone wins. We can already see a fitter, more resilient David thanks to the great care he receives from his occupational health department!”

But the number of trained specialist doctors are falling, and the majority of small and medium sized organisations don’t have access to occupational health.

The Society of Occupational Medicine are calling for universal access to occupational health – because we all might at some point need help, but hopefully not in quite so dramatic fashion as David!


Career opportunities in occupational health

Whatever your background or interests, there is a career in occupational health that's perfect for you.

Doctors, psychologists, technicians, nurses and physiotherapists all play important roles within OH. This video explains why they love working in OH, their day-to-day responsibilities, opportunities for training and career progression and much more.

OH is an exciting and varied field to work in, one that offers great work-life balance and near endless possibilities.


8.9 million working days lost to work related musculoskeletal disorders

In 2016/17 507,000 workers suffered for work related musculoskeletal disorders (MSK) losing 8.9 million working days. Construction, transport and storage, health and social work activities and agriculture have the highest rates.

There is a general downward trend since 2001 but still approximately 1500 in every 100 000 workers have a new or longstanding MSK disorders annually.

In 2016/17, the following working days were lost due to work-related MSK issues

• Back disorders - 3.2 million days with an average number of days lost per case of 16.5 days, 

• Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULDs) - 3.9 million working days lost, this equated to 17.2 days per case

• Work Related Lower Limb Disorders - 1.8 million days were lost with a rate of 21.1 days lost per case.

Men are more likely than women to get MSK disorders and they become more common the older we get.

And not just in the UK, according to the latest figures of the European Survey on Working Conditions, 24.7% of the European workers complain of backache, 22.8% of muscular pains, 45.5% report working in painful or tiring positions while 35% are required to handle heavy loads in their work. Pain in the lower limbs may be as important as pain in the upper limbs, although this is less commonly reported in the recognised occupational musculoskeletal disease reporting systems. 

And it’s not a standalone problem; evidence shows MSK disorders cross- react with mental health issues.

Perceived work environment influenced psychological distress and also influenced the reporting of MSK disorders. The mechanism is thought to be that adverse psychosocial environments may impair coping behaviours, leading in turn to impaired mental health, tension, and consequent MSK symptoms. Studies have shown that ‘abnormal’ scores on a measure of psychological distress precede, rather than affect, episodes of back pain and a 10 year follow up study showed that psychological distress at baseline (23 years) more than doubled the later risk of low back pain at age 33 years. Therefore, psychological distress is highlighted as a primary cause, rather than an outcome, of MSK pain. 

There are many causes of MSK symptoms, but obesity consistently appears in studies as a key factor in the onset and progression of conditions of the hip, knee, ankle, foot and shoulder. The majority of research has focused on the impact of obesity on bone and joint disorders, such as the risk of fracture and osteoarthritis. However, emerging evidence indicates that obesity may also have a profound effect on soft-tissue structures, such as tendon and cartilage. 

Obesity substantially increases the risk of OA and other MSK conditions such as back pain, with the risk of developing knee arthritis appearing to be similar to that of developing high blood pressure or Type 2 Diabetes. Those who are obese are twice as likely to get osteoarthritis of the knee than those of recommended weight and the very obese are 14 times more likely to develop persistent knee pain than slim individuals.

So, what does this mean for businesses?

At its most basic, the older and fatter we get, the more likely we are to get MSK disorders and if we have mental health issues that will also increase the problem. The general population is getting older and the number of young workers is decreasing, and they are fatter than they have ever been. This shows no signs of improving as there is a large percentage of obese school children. Obesity is increasing in the population of the UK and as we all know we are all going to have to work for longer. Mental health problems are also increasing in frequency in the population with a significant number of people first affected in childhood.

A perfect storm of future problems for businesses. 

A wellbeing strategy that addresses mental health, physical health and proactive health initiatives is needed by organisations now more than ever and access to sound Occupational Health (OH) provision for employees helps with managing all these issues.

Occupational Health (OH) is a branch of healthcare that is concerned with the relationship and interaction between health and work.  An effective OH service aims to achieve the following.

• Protect workers against work related health risks

• Monitor the health of workers with specific health checks over time

• Ensure the fitness of workers to work safely and effectively

• Reduce absence due to work related and non-work related illness

• Advise on rehabilitation programmes after long term illness or injury

• Enhance preventive and proactive wellbeing through health education, skills development and promotional programmes

The climate of employment means that organisations need to consider how they are going to address the upcoming demographic and fitness issues that are predicted to be arriving now and in the next decade. Return on Investment (ROI) for OH is especially easy to measure around MSK with figures ranging £5-11 benefit for every £1 spent. For general wellbeing interventions the ROI is between 1:1 to 34:1 but the studies are of variable quality.

But considering the risk to business, the question now needs to move from what is the ROI a business gets from its investment in the health of its staff to what is the risk from not investing. With all the evidence now available about the public health risks and an aging workforce, the question a responsible business should be asking should not be “Why should we invest in OH advice and intervention?” but now the question really must be “What possible reason is there for not investing in OH advice and intervention?”


Dr Lucy Wright

Chief Medical Officer Optima Health on behalf of the Society of Occupational Medicine




Mental Health Research

We are pleased that two key articles from the journal, Occupational Medicine, have been included in a collaboration of notable articles on mental health. The research covers a wide-range of areas including music therapy, sleep, age and the brain. 

One is on Working hours and common mental disorders in English police officers and the other is Impact of working hours on sleep and mental health.   

The full selection of articles can be found online



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.




Prof. Diana Kloss MBE on Brexit and occupational health and safe

Prof. Diana Kloss recently spoke to the North West Society of Occupational Medicine regional group on the impact of Brexit at the Bentley Motors factory in Crewe.

In her talk Prof. Kloss explained the legal position of the government and its relationship to Parliament and the courts. She reviewed the White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill and tried to predict what new legislation will be needed.  She emphasised that workers' rights both in health and safety and employment law were enshrined in law both before the UK joined the EU, and during UK  membership and that these rights may be reviewed after the UK leaves.

In particular, some provisions of the Working Time Regulations, the Agency Regulations and TUPE are unpopular with business and may be amended.  Special consideration was given to the General Data Protection Regulation which will come into force throughout the EU in May 2018.  It is likely that the UK will need to make substantial amendments to the Data Protection Act.

Members were impressed by the Occupational Health (OH) service provided by Bentley, including access to physiotherapy in the workplace and counselling through an Employee Assistance Programme.  This was a great example of the diversity of working in OH. To join the SOM NW Group go to

Diana Kloss is a barrister and part-time chairman of Employment Tribunals in Manchester. She is also an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Occupational Health Law at the University of Manchester.

Diana will also be speaking at an event on the implications of Brexit on UK workplace/workforce health on 10th May. See


North West

Tri service occupational health symposium – March

Sandhurst Military Academy

Held every two years, this event at Sandhurst Military Academy brings together occupational health and medicine professionals working in the armed forces. A key note address from the Chief of Defence People, Lt Gen Richard Nugee, on the first day outlined the challenge: to ensure the maximum number of military personnel are fully deployable. As part of this objective, military occupational health practice helps protect, promote and restore health ensuring medical fitness to both employ and deploy soldier sailors and airmen (common issues being mental health and musculoskeletal injuries). Thankfully, all military personnel have access to good quality occupational health, whereas in the civilian population this is not the case.

Dr Robin Cordell has worked both in the military and civilian sectors and compared occupational health practice between the two. He highlighted the enduring importance of leadership. Workplace health problems can arise wherever there is poor leadership and team functioning. It was reassuring to hear that a core part of the training at Sandhurst is to support a leadership style that serves and aims to improve team dynamics and interpersonal relationships. He also highlighted that military occupational health has unique challenges, hazards and risks such as with the equipment used. Whereas private sector occupational health services have a commercial imperative, in the armed forces there is a shared outcome of facilitating return to work / being deployable for operations.

The first day also covered current issues in the military workforce: women fighting in ground close combat, transgender issues and women as submariners.  I was impressed as to how military occupation health professionals also provide a significant contribution to the broader OM community –through an impressive investment in training of the next generation of professionals and undertaking research. There were some excellent research presentations - for example, examining if there is there a link between higher body mass index and fitness for deployment - is it that the bigger you are the more likely you were going to be unfit to be deployed? The results confirmed that is the case, and that excess weight and obesity effectively cost the Royal Navy 108 deployable bodies – a whole ship of people! However, it was reassuring to know that if the Royal Navy’s population was the same weight as the UK’s population there would be significantly more men unfit to deploy. Other research suggested that recruiting standards should be maintained and that efforts should be made to reduce obesity as this can also lead to increased risk of injury.

Nick Pahl, SOM CEO

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