We’ve read and digested a new report by the Society for Occupational Medicine discussing the value proposition of occupational health for employers and have a summary of its main points that relate to our work as occupational physiotherapists below.
Health problems among the working population are having a significant socio-economic impact. Population surveys estimate that 131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in the UK in 2013. Minor illnesses were the most common reason given for these illnesses and accounted for 27.4 million of these days whilst the greatest number of days were due to musculoskeletal problems (30.6 million). This is ample evidence to support the inclusion of occupational health for employees. Other main points addressed in the report include;
1. How is Occupational Health Support Accessed?
In relation to how occupational services are accessed, the report states:
- Access to occupational health services are restricted to employees of large companies only, but SMEs are by far and away the biggest employers, so these employees aren’t getting the benefits of these services
Only a minority of the UK workforce can access a comprehensive occupational health service. A telephone survey of 2,250 British employers in all sectors of the British economy enquiring about broad health and wellbeing provision reported that 13% of employers provided access to occupational health services to employees in the last year.
2. How is Occupational Health Support Defined?
A telephone survey of 4,950 UK employers examining specifically the use of occupational health support defined comprehensive occupational health support 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.
Using this definition, only 3% of UK employers provided access to comprehensive occupational health services. Both surveys reported that more large organisations provide access than small companies too. The range of services was also determined by legislative or statutory requirements within each industry sector.
3. How is the Business Case Made for Occupational Health Support?
“The business case for investing in occupational health within an organisation must be transparent and compelling. The benefits are not restricted to financial reasons and the quality of return on investment economic evaluations are low. The business “value” of high absence needs to be determined by each company rather than just looking at pure financials”.
- Compelling business reasons for investing in occupational health should include:
- Legal – the legal obligation employers have for the safety and welfare of their employees. This includes compliance with statutory regulation including The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. As part of this legislation, employers are required to conduct health assessments where occupational health staff can advise on the specific needs of employees and arrange or provide suitable programmes.
- Moral – Moral reasons for implementing an occupational health plan have usually been taken by smaller companies that know their staff intimately and want to provide a good workplace for them. But increasingly, corporate social responsibility has led larger employers to undertake a moral duty to look after their staff.
- Financial – sickness absence is estimated to cost UK businesses £28.8 billion each year; an overall median cost of £554 per employee, and anywhere between 2-16% of payroll. Yet when surveyed only half of employers thought that occupational health provided a return on investment. However when examined closely, the costs provide a compelling case for considering occupational health investment.
Below is a table of tangible and intangible costs associated with poor occupational health:
Increasingly employees, customers, shareholders and investors expect employers to demonstrate high standards of corporate social responsibility and to integrate social, ethical and environmental concerns into business operations. Social concerns include employee health and wellbeing; consequently occupational health can play a major role in employers’ corporate social responsibility programmes. In summary:
- Protecting and promoting employee health is integral to corporate social responsibility
- Employees think employers should be more proactive in providing workplace health interventions
- Work-related ill health is a significant cost to individuals, employers and the taxpayer
- Employer paid interventions may save more money at a societal level (health and social care)