As part of our thought leadership series, our focus this February is occupational health. We will be covering the topic from multiple angles and industries; but to fully explore the topic we first need to establish the basics. Occupational health as a part of health and safety often goes unnoticed at. As an employer you are required by health, safety and welfare legislation to be able to provide a safe workplace and truthfully assess the risks that workers experience whilst at work. Companies understandably focus on following procedures to limit accidents, but this means we often fail to take into consideration the ways in which different occupations impact the people in their workforce. When we take occupational health seriously, we can then optimise our procedures further to address these impacts from a health and safety standpoint.
What is Occupational Health?
Occupational health is a part of the public health discipline that aims to maintain the physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations.
Examples of occupational conditions
If occupational health is an abstract idea to you, occupational illnesses and diseases are conditions that arise due to the nature of your work. This might be skin disorders like dermatitis caused by a reaction to something, respiratory illnesses such as asthma caused by particulates, musculoskeletal disorders like back pain; or more things that are less visible like hearing loss, cancer, stress and mental disorders.
The importance of Occupational Health
Whilst often seen as less important than other facets of managing a workplace, occupational health has now become a topic of conversation within the United Nations World Health Organisation.
The WHO has urged countries to develop policies and institutions that promote occupational health, intervene in the workplace more to prevent occupational injuries and work-related diseases, as well as collaborating with national health programmes that promote better mental and environmental health.
Workforce benefits from Occupational Health
Workers are a key part of any business, essential to a company’s productivity and profitability; so it makes sense to care for them and make sure that you are understanding the ways that their jobs impact them.
When occupational health as a process is done well, it keeps your workforce at work.
Many companies will use occupational health services to assist them in maintaining the wellbeing of the workforce, to ensure that they are healthy and safe both physically and mentally whilst in work.
Whilst taking care of occupational health is good from a worker’s point of view, there is also a shrewd business benefit that it brings. Reducing worker absence. Every year in the UK, over 170 million days are lost to sickness absence, costing the economy approximately £100bn. If you can reduce the amount of productive time that you lose through worker’s getting ill or injured, there is a chance that you can generate more profit through this effective work that you have gained.
NHS Occupational Health Services
The largest occupational health bodies in the UK are those under the umbrella of the NHS. The NHS has occupational health centres across the country, which support employers from the full range of industries. Their aim is to maintain staff health and wellbeing, and help improve staff health if they do fall ill.
Facets of Occupational Health work
A key part of occupational health is trying to reduce absenteeism and helping workers get back to work as quickly as possible. The aim is to reduce the cost of absence to your organisation, increase productivity through reducing the disruption caused by worker absence.
Most absences are a result of mental health challenges or musculoskeletal disorders, so rehabilitation in both of these areas is an essential part of reducing absences. Occupational health centres, such as the ones associated with the NHS that we mentioned earlier, use their teams of highly qualified doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and mental health practitioners to provide treatment and support to workers.
Every organisation will have done their own risk assessments from a general health and safety perspective; however you can get independent organisations to carry out professional risk assessments that focus on reducing occupational illness. Their assessments will try to identify ways in which they can intervene and reduce occupational risks, such as forms of surveillance that monitor levels of noise, radiation, solvents, fumes, dusts or biological agents that could affect workers.
In the past few years, vaccinations have obviously become crucial parts of our lives due to Covid. However, there are a wide variety of other situations where vaccinations are a suitable way to mitigate certain risks that workers in some industries are exposed to. These help stop the spread of preventable diseases.
Health and wellbeing within the workplace
A key part of occupational health is promoting better health as a long term way of reducing absence and worker wellbeing. Occupational health centres will offer support in creating a more healthy working environment, promoting healthy work behaviour, and improving your workers mental wellbeing.
How can you improve occupational health in your company, business or place of work?
Whilst you now know the benefits of occupational health, and some of the ways in which NHS Occupational health centres and other organisations can assist your company; there are also some ways you personally can improve occupational health in your company, business or place of work. If you keep occupational health in mind when you are developing your organisation and its working culture; you can properly implement managerial systems and mandate the way you work with personnel from the start.