Experts today welcomed the ‘unprecedented’ focus on workplace health in this year’s Budget which places occupational health (OH) expertise at the heart of strategies to tackle workforce drop-outs due to ill health.
However, The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) and Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association (COHPA) say that universal access to OH will be the next critical step to addressing health-related economic inactivity.
600,000 people have become economically inactive since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic at an estimated cost of £150bn to the economy.
OH professionals are qualified doctors, nurses or other health professionals who have undergone additional training on health in the workplace.
SOM and COHPA recommend that employers target specialist services and support towards those most at risk of dropping out of work, such as people with ongoing health issues, rather than general health checks and wellness programmes.
Most large businesses offer OH, but small businesses have been five times less likely to offer OH so less than half of all UK employees have access. SOM and COHPA welcome the plan to expand a subsidy pilot scheme, so small businesses in particular are better able to seek professional expertise from OH specialists, but access needs to be universal to all.
Dr Shriti Pattani, President of SOM, said: “We welcome the unprecedented focus on occupational health in this year’s Budget announcement. Specialist OH providers stand ready to deliver what is needed to tackle economic inactivity related to ill-health and universal access is the next critical step.
“Specialist occupational health knowledge is the heart of workplace health in terms of both strategy and delivery, and we would like to see the Government be clear in its intent to utilise OH expertise to ensure an evidence-based and targeted approach to workplace health.”
COHPA is today launching its Introduction to Occupational Health for SMEs to help steer employers in the right direction, building on SOM’s document on mental health support on the workplace, which was produced in collaboration with the Federation of Small Businesses.
Alan Ballard, Chair of COHPA, said: “Without occupational health guidance, businesses may unintentionally waste their investment on 'wellness programmes' and 'general health checks', which have little impact on workforce drop-outs.
“We are launching an introductory guide to help inform business, as OH can significantly boost productivity and bottom lines as OH expertise is at the centre of preventing workforce drop-outs.”
SOM and COHPA welcome enquiries from those who need information.