Dr James Chandler: Occupational health is a valuable employer investment

The value of occupational health, whether to stakeholders, employees, employers or the government, is well documented. It has been highlighted by two in-depth reports, Occupational health: The value proposition, and Occupational health: The global evidence and value, published in May 2017 and April 2018 respectively, by the Society of Occupational Medicine.

There is a sound business case for employer investment in occupational health services. For example, they can add value by reducing costs via the prevention of ill health, the improvement of productivity and a range of intangible benefits.

However, only a minority of the UK workforce has access to comprehensive occupational health services, and the government-provided Fit for Work programme was recently scrapped. This is in the context of sickness absence rates in the UK that, despite falling to their lowest level on record, have been largely stagnant since 2011, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics in July 2018.

Furthermore, Employment outcomes for people with long-term conditions, published by CFE Research in September 2016, found that the number of people with long-term conditions is rising, in part due to an ageing society and workforce. This has important implications for the health and productivity of the working age population, as well as the economy, the government and society in general.

An effective approach to managing workplace health should be underpinned by three core principles: the promotion of good health and educating employees on how to effectively manage their wellbeing; preventative action, enabling the early identification of issues and referral to a specialist if needed; and ongoing health management, helping employees sustain good working conditions, boosting productivity and ensuring effective case management.

Such systems can effectively manage workplace health, and any future government inquiries into occupational health should take note.

Dr James Chandler is a policy adviser at the Work Foundation