Guest blog by Dr Clare Fernandes, Chief Medical Officer, BBC
Occupational health plays a vital role in supporting employers to plan and implement an effective framework of health and wellbeing. COVID-19 has showcased the true value of occupational health, the value of which will last well beyond the pandemic. I sit alongside safety and wellbeing teams, but also human resources, business continuity and workplace engineers, working in a multidisciplinary manner to prevent and plan for ill health during the pandemic. This has led to positive employee outcomes: individually - returning to work after illness and protecting those most at risk; to organisations - by boosting confidence in the safety of the work environment maintaining output and productivity, and to the community - by empowering and aiding workers to take steps to manage their health, and mitigating risk in the workplace and beyond.
1. Protection of workers
Protecting the health of those who have remained in the workplace, together with those working from home and those under local lockdown has remained central to my role. As part of this, I have worked with other doctors and broadcasters to set industry standards and guidance to allow actors to work in close contact with extra risk mitigation and testing regimes. Within a more familiar office environment, this has included liaising with health and safety and workplace engineers to outline the suitability of protective measures in the workplace, including appropriate use of masks and screens. Engaging the workforce (i.e. my colleagues) individually, in groups and through Union Representatives has allowed those working in a variety of situations to remain well and confident in the safety and risk mitigating measures being in place. Discussing the scientific rationale for changes, promoting safe working practices through correct use of control measures, and discussing and alleviating fears has enabled everyone to work safely whilst maintaining business objectives has been vital.
2. Health promotion
This has been particularly important in some of the international offices where reliable information on protective measures can be scarce and access to medical care is not as good as in the UK. Therefore the provision of relatable and simple information on the principles of hygiene and distancing, dispelling myths and promoting good practice in the workplace and general life across multiple continents has been vital. Promoting healthy practices has been a hot topic as more evidence emerges on modifiable COVID-19 risk factors. Maintaining physical and mental health can be challenging outside of the pandemic, and particularly difficult at this time and I have worked with the wellbeing team, the learning academy and communication team to create podcasts and learning material on promoting healthy lifestyles to help keep well during lockdown.
Above left: Health promotion presentation in Kyrgyz for employees in Kyrgzstan. Above right: COVID-19 presentation in Pashto for workers in Afghanistan.
3. Advocacy for communities within the workforce
COVID-19 has highlighted disparities in health in certain communities. I have worked with Embrace, a staff-led networking group for all employees at the BBC from BAME ethnicities to develop risk assessments that can be employed to keep those at heightened risk safe. Changes in working practices and workplace layouts also means those with different physical and mental needs may require additional consideration and/or adjustments. Working alongside inclusion and diversity specialists, and the health and safety team, we compiled checklists and aids to empower managers to help those with different physical and mental requirements to return to a transformed workplace whilst accommodating a diversity of needs.
4. Aiding the management of employees with medical conditions and sickness absence
Perhaps in the more traditional and familiar occupational roles, working with employees, Line Managers and Human Resources in case conferences, fitness for work, suitable adjustments and suitable work for those with complex illnesses or retuning after sickness absence, COVID-related or otherwise.
This work highlights the various ways occupational health professionals help employers ensure a healthy workplace culture, and properly organised and healthy work. Creating a culture of good health – good workplaces, employee engagement, wellbeing and productivity – are interrelated. This, along with managing employee health, contributes to the organisation’s success through increased productivity whilst maintaining the employer’s duty of care.