Role of Health Assessments

The role of occupational health assessments

The latest official data shows that 32.5 million working days were lost to work-related ill health in 2019/20, with stress, anxiety and depression accounting for almost 18 million of these.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that Covid-19 has forced employee wellbeing more urgently into focus for many organisations. Businesses are now taking a strategic approach to employee wellbeing and business leaders are taking it seriously.

However, the adverse impact of the pandemic on many people’s mental wellbeing means that employers will increasingly need to take effective steps to manage the risks of stress and mental ill health among their workforces.

So how can occupational health help?

Occupational health is a medical specialty focusing on the relationship between work on health and health on work. Occupational health advise managers on how to prevent individuals being made ill by their work and enable those with health conditions to be able to work as effectively as possible despite their health issues.

What is an occupational health assessment?

An occupational health assessment is a consultation with a specialist nurse or doctor. Its main aim is to advise employers on the employee’s health and make recommendations on what adjustments could be considered to ensure a safe and healthy working environment for that employee.

At Occupational Health Services, when we carry out a health assessment, we assess the employee’s current health status, symptoms and functional ability in order to assess their fitness for work. We assess whether symptoms are potentially caused by or aggravated by work, and we identify any pre-existing health issues that potentially could be aggravated by workplace factors.

What types of health assessments are there?

There are many different types of occupational health assessments that are relevant for different roles and industries. Here are a just a few:

Pre-employment/pre-placement/new starter assessments: these are carried out after an offer of employment been made and accepted and should occur before the employee starts work. The aim of these occupational health assessments is to ensure the employee is fit for the role and to identify if there are any disabilities that may require adjustments when they start the role.

Fitness for work: these assessments are carried out if an individual is in a role which has specific medical standards that must be met (such as a safety-critical role), if an individual is displaying symptoms that could affect their ability to work (such as stress or back pain), and if their behaviour or their performance at work is affected and concerns are raised over their work capability (e.g. displaying uncharacteristic behaviour or making more mistakes than normal).

Health surveillance: this is a legal obligation to identify an employee’s level of health before being exposed to the hazards at your organisation (such as having a hearing test if there is significant exposure to noise). This is to identify if there are any pre-existing issues where additional protection may be required. Assessments would then be done periodically to identify at an early stage if the employee’s health is affected so appropriate interventions can be put in place.

Return to work and sickness absence management: these assessments are aimed at identifying reasons for recurrent short-term absence or long-term absence. They are carried out to help understand how an employee’s health is impacting or could impact, on their work and what support and adjustments can be put in place to facilitate a successful and sustained return to work and reduce the risk of further absences.

The importance of carrying out occupational health assessments cannot be underestimated, especially in the current climate of the Covid-19 pandemic which has brought about a huge shift in the way we work and with it many new work and health-related challenges, such as the emergence of Long Covid, and more widespread homeworking.

For some employers, carrying out an occupational health assessment is a legal obligation (e.g. for health surveillance), but for others simply ensuring employees’ health and wellbeing is at the forefront of your business can lead to enhanced productivity, reduction in staff absence, and aid staff retention.

For more information or advice on occupational health assessments, please contact us today.