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What SMEs need from Occupational Health

Posted by Ann Caluori | Thu, 21/03/2024 - 12:12


Guest blog by Karin Brawn


Spare a thought for the small business owner. They must secure a continuing revenue stream and stay ahead of the curve. They must also know about health and safety, risk, employment law, tax, and environmental impact.


SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) face the additional challenge of escalating sickness absence and employees presenting with ever more complex physical and mental ill-health, which can negatively impact employee wellbeing.


When resources are squeezed and information can be hard to come by, how can occupational health (OH) help? OH supports employees to return to work when physical or mental illness or injury is preventing this. It provides further guidance about workplace wellbeing with advice on adjustments etc. to support employee recovery. OH can ensure that employees do not find themselves thrown straight back into an unhealthy working environment. It makes sense that SMEs consult OH early and consider a more enabling approach to sickness and disability. An OH helpline trial for small businesses proved that OH could provide invaluable signposting to resources and an objective voice providing reassurance to those dealing with health issues at work.


So, what do SMEs need from occupational health (OH)? They need more information about what OH does, as they are often unaware it exists. OH provision and what it can offer can be confusing and SMEs are unfamiliar with adjunct services such as vocational rehabilitation, occupational therapists, occupational physiotherapists, technicians, and audiologists. 


How else can OH support SMEs?

  • Inform SMEs of the range of services provided by OH professionals.
  • Provide information about what is needed before an OH consultation. SMEs often do not have job descriptions, risk assessments, or formal performance assessment and may need assistance with this. 
  • Explain how to protect confidentiality, gain employee permission, apply for GP health data etc.
  • Help advise on what to tell employees, so that they do not fear the OH appointment or see it as a vehicle simply to get rid of them. 
  • Provide a written report that provides quality insight to enable workable solutions.

OH can also advise SMEs about:

  • The impact that the working environment might have on employees.
  • How earlier, positive, enabling discussions supported by OH can lead to better outcomes. 
  • Whether other professionals such as a physiotherapist, counsellor, or a neurodiversity expert could help.
  • Advice on the Access to Work scheme.
  • How the insurance industry might also contribute.
  • Whether funding is available e.g. via the government’s pilot efforts to incentivise SMEs to use OH.

As SME owners face continued demands in a complex workplace wellbeing landscape, accessing professional OH support is something worth facilitating. Bringing in OH, which need not be expensive or complicated, can ensure better performance and a better outcome for all employees, not just the person seeking support.


 Karin Brawn MCIPD MA HRM 

 Karin Brawn HR

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