Occupational health questions and answers

In this blog we will be answering a few questions related to Occupational health, occupational health referrals, assessments, assessment reports, and the powers of an occupational health report. 

What is occupational health?

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Occupational health is one area of the public health domain that is concerned with the physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations.

This area of public health involves promoting, advocating, and maintaining the highest degree of well-being for workers in the workplace across various occupations. 

The main role of occupational health within the workforce is to support management of health issues of employees within the workplace and are concerned with how their occupation impacts the health of the employee. 

It is important to mention that occupational health, while they are occeneed about how the work or the workplace might impact on the employee, it is also focused on how the employees’ health may impact on their performance at work. 

What do Occupational Health services do?

Occupational health within the workplace provides support to employees by interpreting medical information of employees in the case that they are unwell and to present it to Managers in a way that allows for employee advocacy as well as makes rooms for accommodations to support the employee in the workplace.

The support they provide includes providing advice to both the managers and supervisors as well as the employees in areas related to:

  • How the medical condition impacts an employee’s ability to work and perform well on the job as well as the impact it has on their ability to carry out their responsibilities. 
  • Workplace adjustments and accommodations for the employees well being such as reducing work hours or workload. 
  • Time period for the return of employees to work in the case they wish to take a medical leave of absence. 
  • Advice and referrals to Counselling and Psychological Services or any medical services. 
  • Providing employees with information related to employees fitness to return to work and  remain at their present role.

Occupational health specialists are the professionals that employees often reach out for guidance on the issues mentioned above.

What is an occupational health referral?

The occupational health referral is a process that is designed to provide advice to both employees and employers for concerns that relate to the employee’s health and their ability to do their job.

The process involves consent between employee and employer with a contractual agreement for the employee to provide such consent and to partake in a medical examination process.

In a situation where there is no contractual agreement, the employee must be made to understand that the lack of agreement may impact the employer’s ability to make a fully informed decision about the position.

Lack of consent will not stall the process, and a decision will be made based on available information which might not give the full picture of the employee’s situation. 

Thus it must be understood by the employee that this process of referral and examination is only designed to help them and is in their interest as well as information related to what the referral process will involve.

According to HRZone, referrals are made with the objective of:

  • obtaining information when an employee is on long-term sickness; usually information related to prognosis.
  • finding out if the employee’s is suffering from an underlying health condition which may be causing short-term intermittent sickness that can impact employee’s work 
  • establishing whether or not the employee is fit to attend a disciplinary or performance hearing

Some of the common reasons when a manager refers an employee to Occupational health include:

  • Situations where an employee has been absent from work on a number of occasions in recent weeks/months 
  • Situations where an employee is absent on a long-term basis that has been over a month.
  • Situations where particular patterns have been identified in an employee’s absence 
  • Situations where a potential health problem has been identified and how it impacts the employee’s ability to work.
  • Situation where an Occupational Health assessment is required for employee’s return
  • to work

What is Fit to work Occupational health assessment?

“Fit to work” or “fitness to work” Occupational health assessment refers to a medical assessment of an employee when an employer wishes to be sure an employee can safely do a specific job or task. 

This kind of medical assessment is usually done by a medical professional that the employee has been referred to do the assessment usually for a medical condition or an injury.

The assessment is done to determine if the employee can medically do the work or the tasks that their role requires them to do- so as to determine medical fitness. 

The main purpose of health assessment fitness for work is to make sure that an individual is fit to perform the tasks of their role effectively and without risk to their own or others’ health and safety. 

The assessment is usually done at the start of their employment contract or after the employee has taken a leave of absence, to determine if after the break they are fit to return to work. 

The assessment is not done to assess if the employee should remain at the job or fired, rather it is done to check if there needs to be any adjustment or accommodations so as to 

allow the person to work efficiently and safely.

What are commonly asked Occupational Health assessment questions?

According to writers at Croner, an HR and health & safety service provider, here are some occupational health assessment questions you can expect during a assessment:

  • Do you have an impairment which may affect your ability to work safely?
  • Do you have eyesight problems that glasses/contact lenses cannot correct?
  • Do you have hearing problems that a hearing aid cannot correct?
  • Do you currently have a drug or alcohol problem?
  • Do you experience fits, blackouts, or suffer from epilepsy?
  • Do you struggle when standing, bending, lifting, or any other movements?
  • Do you have any form of back problem?
  • Have you ever experienced discomfort or pain when using a computer keyboard?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Do you have asthma, bronchitis, or any other chest problem?
  • Have you had treatment for TB?
  • Do you suffer from diabetes, thyroid or gland problems?
  • Have you ever had an illness or injury caused, or made worse, by your work?
  • Do you suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure?
  • Are you currently taking any form of medication?

These questions are not universal and the issues that will be discussed will not be limited to this list.

What information should you have available during an Occupational Health Assessment?

In order for the assessment to be effective and cover all basis, it is important that you have the following information at hand:

  • Details of any current prescription medication from your doctor or specialist.
  • Any relevant health information, such as diabetic monitoring diaries or mood diaries for psychological disorders.
  • Names of any specialists whose care you are under and details of any forthcoming appointments or operation dates 
  • If you have had any recent reports of investigations such as blood tests, X rays or scans. Ask your doctor about these recent reports and investigations. 
  • Details of how long your current Fit certificate runs if you have one. 

What is an occupational health report?

Following the consultation with an Occupational health specialist, a report is made that is written by the OH practitioner on the employee’s condition to work.

The occupational health report will include information related to the employee’s medical condition, their ability to work, their needs of accommodation and support, as well as anything that can be done to help improve their well- being like referrals to medical services etc. 

The employees have a right to see the report before anyone else and requires their consent to be sent across to their manager or employer.

Usually the employee will  be given a few days to see the report and at this time, the employee can ask for facts to be corrected. The employee has the right to disagree with what is mentioned in the report.

While the OH specialist needs to change factual  information if the employee disagrees with it and there is no factual evidence,the report should mention any differences of opinion.

The report will usually mention the condition, medical situation, and answer any questions that have been specifically brought up. 

The report is then sent to the manager as well as to the employee, HR representative and, in some cases, the employee’s GP.

Can an employer ignore an Occupational health report?

Unfortunately Yes. 

Your manager or employer can ignore the advice and suggestions given by the Occupational Health specialist in their report since it is only suggestion and advice. 

The inputs for accommodations are not mandatory, rather it is completely up to the manager or the employer whether they want to take up the advice or not. 

Now, it is very important that any employer should consider any advice on the occupational health report in order to make adjustments that are necessary to address any issues that have put you in a disadvantage.

However, ultimately it is their call in terms of what is reasonable for the company to accomodate or not. If they find that they are unable to make the accommodations the occupational health report has suggested they can choose to ignore it. 

Can occupational health sign me off work?

No, occupational health cannot sign you off work since the occupational health specialist is not in charge of signing off people from their work, only the manager or the employer of the employee can do that. 

The occupational specialist will perform an assessment of the employee’s state of being and create a report that is sent, with the consent of the employee, related to the needs of the employee so that they can return to their duties, do their job, or address any potential new or ongoing issues.

This report is not a command, rather it is advice to the employer and the employee which means that an occupational health specialist cannot sign off an employee either temporarily or permanently. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have answered a few questions related to Occupational health, Occupational health assessments, questions that are commonly asked, what Occupational health report is as well as the powers of occupational health report and assessments. 

References

What Power Does Occupational Health Have? WorkingWellSolutions. Retrieved on 22nd March 2022. https://workingwellsolutions.com/what-power-does-occupational-health-have/

Occupational Health. Croner. Retrieved on 24th March 2022. https://croner.co.uk/resources/occupational-health/

Six best-practice tips on how to make an occupational health referral. Fusion Occupational Health. Retrieved on 24th March 2022. https://www.fusionoh.com/blog/how-to-make-occupational-health-referral

Occupational Health Referrals. Guide. University of Glasgow. Retrieved on 24th March 2022. https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_554573_smxx.pdf

Questions to ask when you are submitting an Occupational Health Referral. FusionHR. Retrieved on 24th March 2022. https://www.fusionbusiness.org.uk/occupationalhealthreferral/

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