What power does occupational health have?

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Page last updated: 14/06/2022

What power does occupational health have?

In this article we will discuss what power does occupational health have.

We will also briefly discuss what occupational health is and what one can expect in an occupational health referral.

What power does occupational health have?

The occupational health service is essentially a medical service that is responsible for giving advice to employers and managers as well as employees related to their wellbeing in their workplace in terms of mental and physical health.

While they are essential to the well–being of the employees and the workplace, they do not have veto power over the managers and employers. The only power they is to make suggestions and advice to maintain the wellbeing of the employes as well as the power to:

  • Determine if the employee is fit to work or not.
  • Determine if the employee is ready to come back to work.
  • Determine how long it will take for the employee to come back to work.
  • Determine accommodations and adjustment strategies to help employees with medical conditions to maintain their well-being while being effective employees.

The occupational health service or specialist does not have any power beyond these three aspects of which they relay via their occupational health assessment report. 

Within this report, the specialist advice. They do not command the employers or the managers to take action. A lot of the advice and suggestions given are “clouds” rather than “shoulds”.

Fitness to work

Occupational health is more or less needed to determine if an employee is fit to work or not if they have taken time off or if the employee is new to the role.

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.

Return to work

They have the power to determine if the employee is ready to come back to work, if they have been away from their job for some time on medical leave. This is usually done via an occupational health assessment. 

During this assessment the specialist will determine if they are ready to come back to work or not and if the employee is recovered enough to do their job.

They also have the power to determine how long it will take for the employee to come back to work and suggest gradual return to work if needed. 

Advice for reasonable adjustments

Based on the report of the Occupational health specialist, the managers will be advised to make suitable and reasonable adjustments to the job, so you can do it.

Another role of the occupational health specialist is to make sure it’s not due to a health problem that can be made worse by work. For example, the stress of the job is making your condition flare up. 

If they do see that there are medical issues related to the work itself, they will make a report that will advise management of the situation, and go on to make recommendations to improve things for both you and the manager.

It is not in the power of the occupational health to 

  • send you home sick
  • tell a manager what to do
  • stop work

The recommendations that the occupational health specialists make are based on your unique employment context which they are familiar with because they have been hired by the company you work in. 

So they are aware of what goes on in your role and also understand the opportunities to make adjustments and tweak things so that the employee;s lives are made more comfortable and safer.

The decision to act on the recommendations given are on the manager and the steps they take to manage their workers. They can take the advice of the occupational health report or the specialist and at the same time they can choose to ignore it. The occupational health specialist has no power over the manager or employer.

What is occupational health?

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. 

According to WHO, 

“Occupational health is an area of work in public health to promote and maintain the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all 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. 

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 scales 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 to expect from an occupational health referral?

If your employer or your workplace manager is sending you to Occupational Health, here are  few things that you can expect:

Informed consent

If your manager is trying to make an OH referral they will require the consent of the employee to join the meeting or the sessions with the OH specialist.

The process involves consent between employee and employer with a contractual agreement for the employee to provide such consent and to partake in the assessment process. Usually, the requirement is added to the employee’s employment contract. 

A referral will be written and sent

After your consent has been gained, your manager will most probably write a referral to the OH specialist. For this, background information is very important so it is likely that your employer will come to you for your medical notes. 

Information that must be included for this includes:

  • the employee’s job role, hours or work and particular aspects of the work which maybe are causing the employee a problem
  • the relevant history of absence, the durations, reasons given by the employee, and whether any previous reports have been provided
  • details of any adjustments which have already been implemented and their effectiveness
  • The information should deal with the present issue and not a former medical issue. 

Consultation

Once information has been sent, there will be a consultation between employee and OH specialist where during the consultation, the OH practitioner will take all of the details that have been provided, including medical reports from the medical practitioner of the employee and go through it. 

In some cases where there are no medical reports, there will be a medical examination- usually done by an independent medical professional that the employee will be subjected to under consent. 

Assessment

If you have been referred for a medical assessment, you will be sent to a medical professional to check your condition. 

While assessments are usually face to face with a medical professional, in some cases consultations occur over the telephone or in more recent years, via video calls. 

Some of the issues that are discussed during the consultation includes information related to your condition include:

  • Your medical history
  • How it impacts your work
  • History of absences
  • Pharmacological and other interventions and treatments you are under
  • Changes in situation
  • Fitness to work
  • Impairments if any
  • Present state of medical condition 

Occupational health assessment report

Following the consultation, a report is made that is written by the OH practitioner.

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 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.

Accommodations and adjustments

Once the manager has received the report, they will review it and take any recommended action for the wellbeing of the employee such as- leave, accommodations and adjustments.

The report should include recommendations and suggest potential adjustments that could  help resolve the situation completely.

Conclusion

In this article we discussed what power does occupational health have.

We also briefly discussed what occupational health is and what one can expect in an occupational health referral.

FAQ related to What power does occupational health have

Who is responsible for my safety at work?

Your employer as well as yourself is responsible for your safety at work. If you have taken all the necessary precautions to remain safe at work, then the rest of the responsibility falls on your employer. 

What if I feel unsafe at work?

If you feel unsafe at work, it is important that you notify your supervisors or HR manager to make necessary adjustments and accommodations. 


Why is my employer sending me to occupational health?

Your employer is sending you to occupational health probably to:

  • Determine if the employee is fit to work or not.
  • Determine if the employee is ready to come back to work.
  • Determine how long it will take for the employee to come back to work.
  • Determine accommodations and adjustment strategies to help employees with medical conditions to maintain their well-being while being effective employees.

Can I lose my job through occupational health?

Occupational health services will not fire you because of your medical condition, instead they will most probably recommend accommodations to your employers to help you adjust to work; however, your manager or employer might make their own call to fire you or keepy you based on the occupational health report. 

References

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

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/