What does occupational health offer employers?

Occupational health (OH) professionals have never been more important. From the start of the pandemic, our team has offered health support to employees across the UK, helping to keep people safe and well at work.

Now with long Covid presenting a real challenge to many, our physicians and advisers are again helping employees return to work, and helping employers understand and deal with new challenges.

“Occupational health helps employers to understand the health issues that affect their staff and make the necessary changes to maximise their potential at work. It can also advise on programmes that will benefit the health and wellbeing of the entire workforce.” Dr Mark Simpson, Chief Medical Officer, Health Management

As part of the Society of Occupational Medicine’s (SOM) inaugural Occupational Health Awareness Week, which runs from 28 June – 2 July 2021, we wanted to share what occupational health means today - and to demonstrate the value it brings to individuals and to organisations.

What is occupational health and why is it so important?

Occupational illness and accidents cost British businesses £2.8bn/year. (SOM 2017)

Occupational health contributes to the effective management of the health of employees at work. Organisations have a legal and moral responsibility to:

  • Provide employees a healthy place to work
  • Protect employees from developing work-related ill health
  • Risk assess employees’ work environments and monitor their health if necessary
  • Make adjustments at work for people with health problems or a disability

An occupational health team works in partnership with workers, their GPs and employers to identify workplace hazards and assess the risks they might pose to employees’ health.

Workplace hazards might involve chemicals, dangerous machinery or high levels of noise.

OH teams also help organisations adapt to the challenges posed by employee health issues, which might involve making appropriate adjustments for a disabled colleague or planning a return to work for a member of staff following long-term sickness.

So occupational health services can involve:

  • Surveillance and assessment of workers’ employee health
  • Education workers about preventative and control measures
  • General healthcare and rehabilitation services

How does occupational health benefit employers?

“COVID-19 has radically changed the healthcare needs of all businesses, and as organisations examine new ways of working, keeping people and customers safe has never been more important. With everyone trying to manage physical and mental health challenges, the searchlight is shining bright on occupational health services.

“Our services - inclusive of management referrals, engaging wellbeing programmes, clinical consultancy and health surveillance - have never been more fundamental to organisational success."
Matt Wood, Managing Director, Health Management

Providing occupational health services for staff can bring significant benefits for all organisations, regardless of size.

Effective OH programmes can deliver significant savings to an organisation’s direct and indirect costs by preventing occupational illness and promoting employees’ health and performance.

“For every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions they’ll get £5 back in reduced absence, presenteeism and staff turnover." Deloitte, 2020


>> Healthy employees have reduced sick leave (absenteeism) and reduced presenteeism.


>> Occupational health supports compliance to a range of legislation and regulations, such as the Equality Act 2010, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, RIDDOR 2013 and other acts owned by the HSE.

Corporate reputation

>> Organisations that look after their employees are more attractive places to work. This in turn and can support the recruitment and retention rates and reduce costs associated with staff turnover.

The Society of Occupational Medicine is running a free webinar entitled "How can we build back better?" - The new world of work at 1-2pm on Thurs 1 July 2021. This will feature contributions from Rachel Suff of the CIPD on "What HR can do to manage absence and reduce presenteeism", and from Dr Doreen Miller on "How OH supports your business needs". Register here.