Occupational health is not marketed as well as it should be, that much is clear. We need to get the message across that occupational health nowadays is much more than just screening and surveillance.
Physicians often discuss three tiers of occupational health practice. The first is around surveillance and screening, which are value-for-money activities, allowing employers to be legally compliant.
The next level is the value-added activities that actually save money, such as dealing with people who are on sickness absence. Employers can reduce unnecessary absence by ensuring that staff get back to work earlier than they would have done otherwise. The value of this can be easily measured in terms of reduction in overtime or having to use agency cover, as well as other measurable elements in terms of the cost to the business.
A situation which is harder to measure, but increasingly prominent, is the problem of presenteeism. This is difficult to quantify, but employers should look at the people that are under-performing at work. Now, more than it ever used to be, this is because they have a chronic health condition and they have not been treated, either fully or at all. Having an occupational health assessment identifies things that can be done to help, improving performance and reducing sickness absence.
The third level is to look at value-creating activities; that is, aligning occupational health with business objectives. One key activity in this area is training line managers to recognise employees suffering with stress. Identifying this early can help deal with issues before employees either go off work or leave the business entirely.
Added to that value-creating element is the whole agenda of health promotion and wellbeing. That bit is less tangible, but it can be measured in terms of employee satisfaction surveys, and what people think about the organisation they work for.
Dr Sayeed Khan is chief medical adviser at Make UK, the Manufacturers’ Organisation