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What is Occupational Health?

Occupational Health is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people at work.  The goals of occupational health programs are to foster a safe and healthy work environment.

There are several situations where Occupational Health could be involved with an individual’s employment:

  • To establish that candidates are able to meet the physical requirements of the job prior to assignment (i.e. if the job is deemed to be physically demanding)
  • To monitor employee’s health status at periodic intervals when the job involves exposure to potential health hazards (health screening may be necessary)
  • To establish that employees are able to return to work after a prolonged absence due to illness or injury
  • To suggest conditions under which employees with illnesses, injuries or disabilities are able to continue working

Who’s responsibility is it to ensure positive Occupational Health?

Occupational Health primarily focusses on the employee but can also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers, and many others who might be affected by the workplace environment.

In the first instance, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe and healthy working environment for all, and this would be achieved by carrying out Health and Safety Risk Assessments of the work being carried out.

From this, measures are put in place to remove or reduce any hazards identified.  Often this assessment identifies that the hazard cannot be eliminated but one way of ensuring the health of the employees may be to carry out routine screening/surveillance, this is the role of occupational health.

When you may be referred to Occupational Health

An individual may be referred to Occupational Health if work is deemed to be having a negative impact on their wellbeing, the individual may still be in work or absent.  An Occupational Health practitioner would be employed to carry out an Occupational Health Assessment.

This assessment seeks to evaluate an employee’s health and identify possible causes of illness.  From this assessment, measures can be put into place to attempt to improve the situation.  This could take the form of physical changes to the work place, assigning different roles, obtaining special equipment or assistance, working from home, implementing health surveillance, reducing hours or changing shift patterns.

An employee may experience health problems for a wide variety of reasons including;

  • long hours
  • physically demanding tasks
  • frequently changing shift patterns
  • exposures to infectious diseases
  • exposure to harmful chemicals
  • poor air quality (contaminated air)
  • exposure to vapors, gas, dust, or fumes
  • emotionally challenging situations
  • Illness
  • Injury

These situations can give rise to all manner of conditions that have a detrimental effect on the individual’s ability to carry out their work:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Musculo-skeletal problems
  • Dermatitis
  • Asthma and other respiratory conditions
  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus
  • Eye Strain
  • Headaches
  • Back and Neck Pain
  • Repetitive strain Injury
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Some common forms of health surveillance carried out in workplaces include periodic eye tests, skin swab tests, hearing tests, lung function tests and counselling.

Do you need help with Occupational Health?

Some larger companies may employ their own Occupational Health staff, but most will refer employees to an Occupational Health Practitioner.  If you are an employer or an employee and require further information regarding Occupational Health, please contact one of our team here on 01666 503686.

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