Employers often need to refer employees for an Occupational Health Assessment for back pain or other health issues.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s) are costing UK businesses £7.4 billion a year through absenteeism. Also an estimated £15 billion a year in presenteeism – people at work, but working less productively. It affects all ages, but we also now have an ageing workforce and higher retirement age, so there are more individuals with health needs in the working population.
What is an Occupational Health Assessment?
It may be that an employee is struggling to do the work tasks due to various reasons, they have:
- Had an injury, recently.
- Been diagnosed with a new medical condition.
- Age-related aches and pains.
- Been awaiting treatment, such as surgery.
- Been on sick leave, so have not done the tasks for some time.
Fit Note and Reasonable Adjustments
Employers may have correspondence from the individual’s GP. A ‘Fit Note’ may have been completed by the GP indicating the individual can ‘return to work’. It may indicate that ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act 2010 are required.
An employee may be working, but with a medical condition so ‘reasonable adjustments’ also apply.
Specialist medical letters may be available and appointments may be ongoing for treatment and rehabilitation. Healthcare may be provided by NHS services or privately.
Generally the GP cannot provide an opinion on what the individual worker can or cannot do, as this requires specialist assessment by a workplace health specialist service, often known under the ‘umbrella term’ of an Occupational Health Service.
Individuals require an indepth personalised Occupational Health Assessment to review their medical situation, what symptoms they experience, what activities and postures they can and cannot do. The assessor should have a good understanding of what the job role involves, from the employer and the individual themselves. How many minutes per day the individual has to be in different postures and perform specific tasks.
Types of Occupational Health Services
Occupational Health Services may be available within your organisation or you may contract in these services. The services can vary greatly. Some may have a team of health professionals available to advise and provide a service on many different matters. Such as flu vaccinations, pre-employment medicals, healthy lifestyle advice etc. Through to complex case management advice and assessments. Assessing physical ability to perform tasks, mental health assessments, medical retirement etc.
Some Occupational Health teams consist of OH specialist nurses and doctors, known as Occupational Health Physicians. Only a doctor can diagnose a health condition. Often the GP or NHS /private specialist service doctors will have done this. The team can have physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational hygienists and occupational therapists in the team. Generally the team have a wide skill mix, due to their past work roles, so they can compliment each others range of expertise.
Occupational Health Services are also delivered by smaller uni-professional teams. Health Care Professionals can advise on work and health matters, where it falls within their expertise. Occupational Therapists are experts in assessing physical and mental health, function and ability. They find practical solutions so individual’s can be independent in activities.
Occupational Health Assessment for Back Pain
The type of Occupational Health Assessment for back pain and other medical conditions will depend on the individual’s health need and what job they perform. There are a number of options:
For sedentary workers:
A DSE Risk Assessment may be sufficient for an individual with recently experienced intermittent aches and pains, not requiring longer term treatment or diagnosis. It may be the symptoms are related to the seating in use and postures adpted for performing tasks.
An Ergonomic Assessment of their workstation is required for an individual with more ongoing health /medical issues often affecting the hands, arms, shoulders, neck and back. They may have had a DSE Risk Assessment prior to this assessment and issues have not resolved. This assessment is in more depth than a DSE Risk Assessment. eg They need measuring for a different chair or other equipment like a different mouse or keyboard.
For Active Workers:
For workers who perform physically active jobs, a Functional Capacity Evaluation will find out if they can do the physical tasks, such as standing for long periods of the day and performing manual handling tasks.
Remember: A physical health issue, can also have a mental health impact and the other way around! An indepth Occupational Health Assessment will consider all of the impact on the individual and provide practical advice.
Management Training & Support
Also, management require training and support so they feel confident in supporting the health needs of their team.
In 2017 Business In the Community launched a Musculoskeletal Health Toolkit for Employers which is a useful resource.
Open conversations with individuals and flexibility in the working pattern to allow them to attend appointments, will all help. If they are better supported in their health & wellbeing needs, they will be happier and perform better!
There is a business case and a moral case when considering supporting individuals’ wellbeing. Employers have a Duty of Care to their employees. The business benefits from reduction in sickness absence costs and recruitment costs (including interview and training of new employees). It also can reduce strain on the rest of the team.
Healthywork offers a range of Occupational Health Assessments.
Contact Us to find out more about these and other services on offer.
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