Occupational Health Awareness Week is a chance to reflect on sea changes in the workplace health landscape – then take action

occupational health awareness - hands on therapy

Each year Occupational Health Awareness Week works to raise awareness of the vital importance of occupational health for everyone. OH not only enables employers to support staff in need, but promotes and protects the health of employees every single day.

This year, it matters more than ever. Occupational health is more critical today than it has ever been.

Pandemic pains continue

During the painful first waves of the pandemic it dawned on employers that employee health was a greater operational essential than previously recognised.

It shone a bright light on the practical management challenges of sickness absence and returns to work, at scale – something that Empactis rapidly enabled within its system.

Employee health must not be allowed to fade from the spotlight.

Because despite a ‘feeling’ of a return to normality, neither COVID, nor its notable impacts such as long COVID and mental health issues, are going away. 

Workforces are evolving to need more occupational support

Diversity and inclusion also bring new OH demand. Women’s health support is increasingly in the media spotlight, while adjustments for a wider range of disabilities must be accommodated as employers continue their inclusivity journey. 

Meanwhile, the working population is ageing, and its waistlines increasing inexorably. It promises a tidal wave of obesity and age-related issues, including both diseases and disabilities – both of which present new practical OH challenges for workplace owners.

Last, but not least, the rise of hybrid working has changed OH practicalities. Remote workers who are out of sight and outside traditional work groups can face new risks to their health and wellbeing, requiring employers to evolve their HR, health & safety and OH processes.

Consensus on the importance of Occupational Health Awareness

The government is highly focused on how employers can retain more people in work for longer and avoid the exodus from employment that often follows long term sickness absence.  Encouraging companies to invest in OH is part of that strategy, as outlined in the ‘Health is Everyone’s Business’ consultation response last year. 

This week, the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) and other leading medical organisations and influencers want employers to rethink OH.

From supporting the 1.8m people who have Long COVID, the 800,000 workers suffering work-related stress, into every wider workforce.  The urgency for change is accelerating, as the exit from work was accelerated by the pandemic, with an estimated 200,000 simply leaving employment in its wake.

Visit the OHAW page here

Discover our Employer’s Guide to long COVID here

As part of its work to shine a light on occupational health in the UK, the OHAW team commissioned a survey.  It has found a number of indicators to reinforce the importance of businesses moving from a reactive to a more proactive mode. It learned that only a fraction of UK adults believe that the health and wellbeing measures businesses currently provide are important.

Read the results of the occupational health survey

This week also sees the launch of the NHS Growing Occupational Health and Wellbeing Together strategy. The NHS is also gathering enormous effort behind Occupational Health as a function, not just to support its own battered and bruised workforce, which has intense and urgent needs. But also to encourage new entrants into all the professional OH disciplines, to fill an ever-increasing clinical need.

Dr Steve Boorman, our employee health director, has a unique perspective from the very centre of this growing focus on occupational health. 

He has been leading the development of the Growing OHWB initiative for the NHS.  In his capacity as Chair for the Council for Work and Health he also has a clear perspective of how OH impacts business. While his work with Empactis has brought him into close contact with how many major corporations are currently transforming how they manage workforce health and absence, and gather and use employee health data.

He says:

“Occupational health in the NHS has for far too long been seen as a breakdown service – something to send staff to as a last resort. That simply cannot continue.”

“After many months of work, we now have a strategy that we believe will see OH becoming a true collaborative partner in keeping the NHS workforce present, healthy, and delivering excellent patient care. I am excited to see what Growing OHWB will deliver in the coming years.” 

“Many commercial employers continue to regard OH as a tick-box process or something that can safely be left to healthcare scheme providers to care about. That must also change, and fast.”

“In business, spend on occupational health and other employee health initiatives are often classified as a pure cost. It should be seen as an investment in terms of helping operational effectiveness and business competitiveness. However, that is very hard without access to the data that enables you to see the true picture of employee health and absence.  That’s why it is so important for employers to put in place appropriate platforms in order to make informed decisions.”

Discover more about Occupational health awareness week, along with a host of OH resources and insights, via the Society for Occupational Medicine website