What is Occupational Health?

Back Pain

Occupational health (OH) is about how work affects a person’s health and how someone’s health affects their work.

Businesses must recognise that managing employees’ health is just as important as controlling financial and capital resources. 

The objectives of occupational health are to:

  • Develop a healthy workplace culture, contribute to the business’ success and assist with compliance requirements.
  • Provide early intervention to help prevent workers from being absent for health reasons.
  • Help improve opportunities for people to recover from illness while at work.
  • Promote individual health and wellbeing and enhance employee wellbeing and engagement.
  • Ensure healthy workplaces to protect people from harm.

Who Provides Occupational Health Services?

OH encompasses a range of professions from different disciplines. The two most visible are OH doctors and nurses, who should have specialist qualifications in either occupational medicine or OH nursing. Others include physiotherapists, psychologists, hygienists or ergonomists.

It will depend on the nature and size of your business as to what type of OH services you will have in place. The larger organisations are likely to employ their own in-house OH professionals. This may involve having a full or part-time occupational health nurse employed, supported by an OH doctor contracted on a part-time basis to carry out medicals and other assessments. Many businesses may outsource OH services completely to private OH providers. OH providers range from individual sole practitioners, who often provide services to smaller firms, to large sophisticated companies delivering multidisciplinary support according to the needs of the business. The decision of whether to employ an in-house service or outsource to a commercial provider will depend on many factors, not least the size of the business, nature of the work and the location and distribution of the workforce. 

Types of Occupational Health Services

The range of OH services a business decides to offer will depend on the nature of the employer’s business, but can include:

  • Sickness absence assessment.
  • Disability evaluation.
  • Ill health retirement.
  • Health surveillance.
  • Biological monitoring.
  • Ergonomics and display screen equipment (DSE) assessments.