The Business Case for Occupational Health in 2022
Organisations will have a variety of reasons to provide occupational health support for employees.
Whether for legal and regulatory requirements, sickness absence rates, or retention and recruitment purposes, organisations all have different reasons for prioritising occupational health.
Even though health and wellbeing are considerably higher on the agenda than ever before, only a minority of the UK workforce have access to a comprehensive occupational health service.
A telephone survey of 4,950 UK employers examining the use of comprehensive occupational health support – defined as hazard identification, risk management, provision of information modifying work activities, providing training on occupational health-related issues, measuring workplace hazards, and monitoring trends in health – found that only 3% of UK employers provide access to comprehensive occupational health services.
What is it that holds employers back from providing occupational health support, and why should they provide it to begin with?
The socio-economic impact
You’ve probably read something somewhere about sickness absence rates in the UK and the associated costs, but to paint the picture:
– The overall median cost of absence per employee is estimated to be £554
– Absence may (depending on how it is covered) account for 2-16% of payroll
– The greatest number of days lost as a result of sickness absence was due to musculoskeletal problems
– Minor illnesses, musculoskeletal problems, and mental health problems were confirmed by employers to be the major causes of sickness absence, alongside waiting for NHS appointments
– Mental health-related absenteeism cost the UK £14bn in 2020
Occupational health involvement is most commonly ranked amongst an organisations’ most effective methods for managing long-term absence, however – one of the main benefits cited is avoided sick leave.
Given that sickness absence presents such a significant financial and moral burden on organisations and society, it follows that any method that can minimise sickness absence would be worthwhile to invest in.
For many organisations, the legal imperative is the most prominent reason for addressing occupational health and safety.
The key legislation – The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 – addresses occupational health and safety in the UK, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities are responsible for enforcing the Act.
Secondary legislation is where the wider scope of responsibilities become clear, such as The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – this is where employer responsibilities become more explicit and actionable.
Health assessments, health surveillance, statutory reporting, and statutory medical examinations all fall under the bracket of the legal duties of employers… but what happens when these duties aren’t met?
Bad publicity is just one element of falling foul of legal duties, but the impact can be swift – successful convictions by the courts are often issued through press releases for successful prosecution by HSE and other regulators that manage online public registers of prosecutions.
Long story short – bad publicity damages reputation and can lead to lost business (at the very least).
Legal and regulatory compliance is not only a reputational concern but also a moral one, with the potential risks of getting it wrong being catastrophic for the employees and business at large.
The business element
Two words: absenteeism and presenteeism.
Most workplaces will suffer from both to some degree, and both have a considerable impact on productivity and morale, and thus, employee turnover rates.
The factors considered most detrimental to employee wellbeing and health are atypical or variable working hours, job insecurity, exposure to restructuring, and environmental hazards.
This indicates that employee health and wellbeing doesn’t boil down to one facet of health and wellbeing, but instead, a wellbeing strategy that encompasses the working environment, workplace culture, interpersonal relationships, and a thorough breadth of wellbeing and health.
Businesses that connect health and productivity strategies to their business objectives report employee health improvements, lower costs, reduced work loss and higher productivity, with significant financial and competitive advantages as a result.
The bottom line
The pandemic highlighted the integral role that occupational health plays not just for organisations but wider society, and with an ageing workforce, this is only likely to become more apparent.
Organisations that commit to a culture of health know how necessary a full range of occupational health support is because their wellbeing strategies cover a wider scope of health and wellbeing.
With so many organisations committing to helping the wellbeing and health of their employees, it naturally follows that they should ensure their strategy and programmes are guided by expert advice and guidance.
Occupational health has always been necessary – it’s just evolved with the workforce.