This week is Occupational Health Awareness Week and to mark it, we want to support employers to start a discussion about their use of occupational health for their workforce.
Back in June, we published The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023, sponsored by Microlink, which included feedback from managers and employees with disabilities and long-term conditions about their experiences of using occupational health in their workplaces. The survey found some difficult experiences of occupational health from both managers and employees.
The underlying structural, cultural, and other reasons for this need further exploration in order to address them properly and we will be looking at this as a broader piece of strategic work. In the meantime, we want to support employers to ensure their use of occupational health is as effective as possible. We encourage employers to consider the following:
- How employees, particularly employees with disabilities and long-term conditions, feel about being referred to and using occupational health as a result of how employers use and position occupational health in their workplace.
- The role of careful, strategically considered contract design in what occupational health can do and the difference it can make in workforces.
- The organisation and structure of wider workplace health, wellbeing and adjustments services and support, which is too often provided in isolation and placed separately from occupational health in the organisation structure.
We offer 6 key considerations to prompt internal discussions about how employers place and use occupational health in their organisations. They focus on how you can ensure that interventions that are within your remit are offered in the right way and at the right time for everyone in your workforce to ensure the best experience possible.
What do your policies, procedures, guidance and communications say about occupational health?
How you ‘pitch’ occupational health will build an image and feeling of occupational health in employees’ minds. If occupational health is only spoken about in, for example, absence and performance procedures, employees will associate their intervention with formal procedures and negative circumstances instead of as a proactive team who can ongoingly support everyday health, wellbeing and adjustments at work.
When do you use occupational health?
One of the key issues we commonly hear form disabled employees is that they ‘fear’ occupational health because of who (and when – alongside a formal procedure for example) their employer uses their services.
Do you have the right type of contract?
The nature of the contract employers have with occupational health providers necessarily defines how your workforce views your occupational health team (as active, reactive, supportive, or removed). In addition, the remit of the contract will define how reactive or proactive occupational health practitioners can be in your workforce. Many contracts ‘stifle’ and restrict how effective occupational health can be.
How do you know what your employees think of occupational health provision?
Every service provider who wants to improve its offer to customers asks for feedback on that service. Our members are increasingly seeing their employees as customers and their adjustments provision as a service they provide to valued customers. Ask your workforce what they currently think of the occupational health service at two levels: their general perceptions of what they understand occupational health to be for, and, from those who have used the occupational health service, what went well and what could be improved. If you are not happy with the findings, change how you approach occupational health in your workforce.
Do you need to improve how you communicate your inclusive values to your occupational health provider, at pre- and during-contract stage?
Many employers have not communicated their diversity and inclusion values, their ‘zero tolerance’ on discriminatory terms and comments, or the expectation that adjustments should be made for employees to interact with occupational health.
How confident are you that managers follow up on occupational health reports enough to ensure recommendations are put in place?
The most common ‘complaint’ about occupational health is about the “inaction” of managers in following up on what has been said in the occupational health report. Then occupational health ‘gets the blame’ for being ineffective, when the complaint is not about occupational health at all. Employees’ experience of occupation health includes the ‘before, during and after’ an occupational referral/assessment.
BDF will also be submitting a written response to the Government’s current occupational health consultation titled “Occupational Health: Working Better”, which closes in October 2023. Our response is being informed by managers, employees with disabilities and long-term conditions, and discussions with occupational health practitioners.
 Discriminatory and non-inclusive comments, and inaccessible occupational health assessment and appointments were all experiences disabled employees told us about in The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023 (Business Disability Forum, The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023, pages 57-58).
 Business Disability Forum, The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023, page 59.