OH helps SME cut absence by more than a quarter

A small business has reduced the number of days taken off sick by 26 per cent 18 months after taking on an occupational health provider.

Bury St Edmunds cubicle and locker manufacturer Helmsman estimates it has so far saved around £12,000 – more than covering the £2,600-a-year cost of its OH contract.

Managing director Anne Rivett has argued that its experience shows the value OH can bring to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The TUC has estimated that just 34 per cent of small firms and 13 per cent of micro-business provide any OH services.

 Helmsman, which employs 110 people, had historically suffered a lot of short-term, frequent absence. A year and a half ago it appointed Bury St Edmunds OH provider WorkFit to take a close look at its absence management and see what could be done better. Absence was costing the company around £57,000 a year.

“We felt we had to be far smarter in managing the fitness of our staff and managing our internal systems,” said Rivett.

“It is far cheaper to get someone in to work through an organised occupational health programme or to look at working methods than recruiting a new person and training them,” she added.

Changes that have since been brought in include introducing a system whereby only those who work more than 39 hours a week are allowed to do overtime.

A more rigorous return-to-work interview programme has been established, with training for managers and supervisors. No-one who has been off sick restarts without an interview and staff have access to fast-track OH consultations within two weeks of going off sick.

“We will particularly move fast if it is an issue of anxiety or back pain or something musculo-skeletal,” said Rivett.

The company has maintained a relatively generous sick pay system – 13 weeks on full pay and 15 weeks on half pay – but  a reduced scheme for new recruits is being brought in from September.

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