18th Feb, 2022 Read time 5 minutes

Where to start with an occupational health assessment

Occupational health is the focus of our thought leadership series in February, and as part of that we are covering the intricacies of an occupational health assessment. If you are a worker, this is probably the most common way you have interacted with occupational health. It is important for you to understand how they work and where you should start when you are asked to have an occupational health assessment. 


What is an occupational health assessment?


Occupational health assessments are medical examinations that you as an employee will have, normally at the behest of your employer. It will be carried out by a qualified occupational health professional. This could be a doctor, nurse, health adviser, technician or another physician who has undertaken the necessary occupational health qualifications.


What is the purpose of an occupational health assessment?


Some people may be scared to take an occupational health assessment, worried that it is a stage of the employment process to rule out candidates. Especially if a prospective employee may have an existing condition, they might think that they will have a job taken away from them if they don’t “pass” the health test. But this isn’t the case. The main purpose of an occupational health assessment is to assess an employee’s health in relation to their work, so that if there is any support an organisation needs to give a worker, they can know ahead of time. The occupational health professional will take the assessment then pass on advice and recommendations to both you and your employer. These will include ways in which your working environment should be adjusted to ensure that you are safe whilst at work. By creating this safer environment, the company can prevent work-related illnesses so it is a win for both employer and employee. 


However there are some cases in which an occupational health assessment is used to determine your ability to work, and can be taken as part of the application process for certain jobs. But this is the rarity, so unless they state that during the application process, you can assume that occupational health assessments are to protect you as an employee rather than test your fitness for work. 


Types of occupational health assessment


Whilst occupational health assessments are discussed in general terms, there are actually various types of occupational health assessments. We cannot cover all the intricacies of the various assessments here, but there are some basic things you should know. 

The occupational health assessments you take will depend on the role that you have/are taking as an employee, the tasks you are expected to complete, the hazards you are exposed to, and any existing health issues that you have. The tests that are associated with the hazards of the role will be generated from a company’s risk assessments. 


Some examples of assessments include: 


  • Pre-employment assessments 
  • Fitness for work assessments
  • Return to work and sickness absence management
  • Health surveillance and medical surveillance
  • Other types of assessments
  • Online occupational health assessment


Online occupational health assessments


Many companies now carry out some levels of their occupational health assessments online, rather than burden local NHS centres or private health providers. Tesco for example is one of the major companies that first started to do this in the UK, both carrying out formal assessments as well as promoting free online health checks (which come in the form of a questionnaire) that staff would have access to. This service would help staff assess their health and then be provided with tips on how to improve their lifestyle. These health assessments benefit both the staff, and companies such as Tesco. Following these assessments they were able to realise that many of their staff’s health problems were caused by inactivity, a poor diet and smoking habits.


Actions taken after an Occupational health assessment


After an occupational health assessment, they might find the need for occupational health support. Depending on where you are working, the nature of their occupational health services will change. A larger organisation or one with higher risks, will often have internal occupational health specialists that assist the company in managing their employees and making sure that illness is prevented. Smaller companies will prefer to outsource occupation health services to dedicated providers, such as a local NHS Occupational Health centre. 


Night Work- an example of when you will be offered an occupation health assessment


Currently if you are offered a job as a night worker, the government has mandated that you must be offered a free occupational health assessment. You don’t have to accept this offer, but they are definitely useful when considering the ways in which night work will affect your own health. 

This assessment will be written by a health professional; and could come in various forms, from a formal health check to a questionnaire. These have to be offered regularly to workers, and retaken if an employee is unsure a worker is fit for nightwork. If the assessment shows that you  are unfit for nightwork, the employer must offer you other work that is more suitable to you; so these occupational health assessments are not punitive.

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