What is occupational health?
Occupational health aims to prevent work-related illnesses and injuries, as well as to manage and prevent the deterioration of existing ill health. It does not focus on curing illnesses, but rather on maintaining and promoting worker health, improving the working environment in the context of wellbeing, and developing workplace culture towards health and safety.
There are many hazards in the workplace that have the potential to lead to injuries and ill-health, leading to absences, loss of work hours, and decreases in happiness and productivity, among other issues.
What is an occupational health assessment?
An occupational health assessment is a medical examination performed by a qualified professional with the goal of assessing employee health in regard to their work. Afterwards, advice and recommendations on adjustments needed are given to the employer to ensure workers are in a safe and healthy environment. An occupational health assessment is a general term that can describe a number of assessments such as New Starter, Return-to-work, Fitness for work, and more.
Are Occupational Health recommendations legally binding?
Occupational health assessments are there to protect both the employer and the employee. Unlike what some may believe, occupational health professionals cannot terminate employment, force them into sick leave, stop someone from working, or influence a manager’s decision.
After assessments, a report is issued to help the manager make more informed decisions on work conditions, tasks, and general management of said employee. It is still the manager’s decision and unless the issues the employee is facing fall under the Equality Act it is entirely at their discretion whether to follow occupational health advice or not.
Does an employee have to attend an occupational health appointment?
Visiting an occupational health appointment is entirely voluntary, and an employer cannot force any of their workers to attend. As the assessment is conducted to benefit both parties, it is important that the employee is aware of why they are being referred and what the benefits are, as well as the fact that in the absence of an OH report the decisions the employer will be making are going to be less informed and based entirely on their own perception of the situation. Thus, it is essential that the employee and their manager work together.
What can we do if an employee refuses to attend an OH Assessment?
In the case where an employee is strongly opposed to attending an OH assessment, it is advisable to have a chat with the employee and encourage them to attend, outlining how they can benefit from the assessment. It is also important they understand that the lack of medical advice might hinder their work experience, and negatively affect their working environment, as their employer will not have the necessary insights to make sure the worker’s needs are satisfied.
It is also advised that the process is clearly documented.
What happens at occupational health assessment?
In order to organise the assessment, your employer will provide the technician a referral with relevant information: reason for referral, background information, such as sickness absence record, and a brief job description. The referral is also where the employer outlines the questions they have about the employee’s health, such as whether they have an underlying health condition, when they can return to work, or how to support them at work.
As with any other medical assessments, OH technicians are bound by medical confidentiality. All the medical information is confidential and can only be shared with a third party (such as the employer) with informed consent of the employee.
This will be achieved through obtaining written consent prior to starting the assessment, By signing the form the employee give consent for the technician to responsibly handle and process their personal data including medical records.
During the assessment, the technician will take a detailed medical history, including things like pre-existing conditions, routine daily capabilities, and overview of any prescriptions and medications. Based on this information, recommendations for the employee and their employer will be suggested, and, if needed, further information will be requested from a GP. Employees have the right to access the report from a GP before it is sent out, and a separate consent form is required to confirm the technician’s access.
To finish the assessment, the technician will inform the employee about what information will be passed on to the employer, and in some cases the report will be read out loud to ensure transparency.
While employees are welcome to suggest amendments to the factual information, the opinion and subsequent advice of the technician are not changeable.
The employee then can indicate whether they do not want to read the report before it is sent, want to read it at the same time as their employer, or after it has been sent.
The employer will arrange a meeting to go over the report and discuss any recommendations and the potential changes to be made.
How should I prepare for an assessment?
Bringing medical records about your existing conditions and the current issue and details of any prescriptions can help the medical professional to access the situation better and provide more in-depth advice.
In some cases, a request for further information will be made with your consent from your GP or specialist consultant. If the need arises, the procedure and any relevant information will the relayed to you during the assessment.
What not to say to occupational health?
Coming in for an assessment set by your employer can be intimidating, however it’s nothing to worry about. We’re there to make sure you are at your best and have the support you need to be as happy and productive as you can be.
It’s important that you are open and honest about your symptoms so that our technicians can assess the situation correctly. Both underselling and overselling the symptoms can have adverse effects such as worse health outcomes, assignment of unsuitable working environments, and increased risk of accidents and injury.
If you believe you don’t need a health assessment, it is still worth being checked out as it can reveal issues you were previously unaware of and prevent worse outcomes or worsening of existing conditions.
My manager wants to refer me to Occupational Health (OH) for an assessment, but I am not sure exactly why. What should I do?
If you have been referred for an assessment, your manager should have discussed the reason with you and, ideally, shared the referral form they’ve completed with you. This is usually due to a health problem, not necessarily caused by your work, that they believe can be affecting your ability to perform necessary tasks or come in to work. If you have any questions, it is essential to reach out to your manager and ask them to clarify anything you are unsure about.
Do I have to agree if my manager wants to refer me?
No, you don’t have to agree if your manager wants to refer you to an OH assessment. It is important to remember that such an assessment is likely to benefit you, as it can reveal issues you were unaware of, help improve your working environment, and inform your employer of any actions they can take to help you. In addition, it can help you return to work quicker, and will allow your employer to make more informed decisions, thus increasing the likelihood of you receiving a higher level of support.
Can I get a copy of my report?
The report is a part of your medical records. At the end of the assessment the medical professional will describe what they intend to include in the report, and you are entitled to see the document before it is released to your employer as well as request a copy for yourself. It is important, however, that you will be checking the report only for the accuracy of factual information, as the medical opinion expressed by the clinician is not subject to change.
You also have the right to not consent to the report being released. If you intend to do so, the clinician will explain the risks and potential outcomes of refusing consent, so that you are fully informed when making the decision.
What information will my employer receive?
Your employer will receive a copy of your report if you have consented to it being released, including information on your fitness for work, any reasonable adjustments recommendations, and answers to the questions they have submitted as part of the management referral if applicable.
What qualifies for ill health retirement UK?
Ill health retirement is when you are allowed to draw your pension before the age of retirement – 55, or the scheme’s ordinary date, due to disability, sickness, or a medical condition. These would usually be in the context of being unable to continue working or having a significantly reduced earning potential. Some additional conditions to qualify may be introduced by the pension scheme.
While the details will vary, the general qualifying factors are:
- established permanent inability to perform work tasks due to mental or physical conditions
- the lack of medication or treatments available that would allow you to return to work before the general age of retirement, either for the current employment, or any alternatives (if you are currently working full time, the pension scheme is likely to suggest working part-time first as a solution)
- it is also recommended for the application to be submitted while you are in pensionable employment for maximum benefits
Pension schemes will put an emphasis on rehabilitation, reasonable adjustments, and alternative solutions to enable you to return to work, especially if your employer is willing to make the necessary changes.