22 February 2016
Dr Lucy Wright CMO OHAssist on behalf of COHPA provides insight into occupational health in the service sector.
Occupational health (OH) is a branch of medicine that is concerned with the relationship and interaction between health and work; namely how an individual’s health affects their ability to work and how the work affects their health.
Traditionally this has been the full extent of OH provision but more organisations are recognising the benefits of investing in staff treatment services to facilitate rapid return to work. Wellbeing provision is also now seen by many organisations as important and many are signing up to the Government Public Health Responsibility Deal pledges and using their occupational health service to deliver on these pledges. (responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk/)
In the service sector there are many organisations which recognise the value of providing occupational health services to their staff but there are also organisations which don’t recognise that health issues in their staff may well be one of their most significant business risks.
All service sector organisations rely on their staff to deliver the services that are the reason for the organisations existence. However many don’t understand that investment in the health and wellbeing of their staff will help the company performance and bottom line.
The latest CIPD absence survey show a range of absence in this sector of mean 1.5 - 4.5% or, to make this clearer, a range of days lost due to absence of 3.3-10.4 days per person per year; with a large proportion of organisations in this sector having no target to reduce absence.
Mental health problems and musculoskeletal problems are high on the list of the most common causes of both short and long term absences in this sector. With 1/3 – ½ of organisations reporting that stress has increased in the last year with workload and volume of work being the major contributory factor. The HSE provides valuable guidance on assessing and managing stress in the workplace. www.hse.gov.uk/stress/
Work that involves being seated and immobile for prolonged periods can have adverse effects on individual health. It is sensible for all workers to change posture regularly; this may be as simple as planning their work so they have to move as part of their duties, but even standing up and sitting down again can help. Physical fitness is often a significant issue for sedentary workers as they spend most of their working day sitting down. If once they are finished work they don’t do some form of regular exercise they can be at risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, heart problems and diabetes. Regular exercise also helps in reducing stress and also decreasing the chances of a recurrence of back pain in those who have had previous problems.
It is more common now for staff to be home based for at least some of the time. This adds a potential issue of social isolation that needs to be considered with work set up in a manner to facilitate regular contact with colleagues and managers. If the employee drives and works in customers’ homes then assessment that the individual is fit to drive and work alone may be appropriate.
This sector also has many employees who work in health and social care so have strenuous physical jobs. The risks of manual handling of people may be overlooked and this should be addressed in the same way as any other manual handling task and subject to a risk assessment. Understanding the impact of musculoskeletal problems associated with the work that your organisation does is valuable to protect the staff but also for the purposes of job design and loss control. You may wish to consider whether access to physiotherapy services would better help your staff remain at work and able to perform their roles.
The level and type of OH service required will vary according the size and risks of your organisation. The HSE produces useful guidance to help you work out what you need. (http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ohindex.htm). The HSE website also contains guidance and case studies relating to many different parts of the service sector (www.hse.gov.uk).
You can contact COHPA to help you contact OH providers to talk over your requirements (www.cohpa.co.uk) and SEQOHS accreditation provides reassurance that your provider of choice is working to audited standards of practice (https://www.seqohs.org/).