Shortlisted team for Occupational Health Award for Managing Employee Health: Personnel Today Awards 2000
Occupational Health journal, a sister title to Personnel Today, is the journal of record for the occupational health profession. The journal covers a wide variety of topics in the field of workplace health and is considered required reading by occupational health nurses and others working in occupational health and safety. A strong news section keeps readers up to date with developments in the field and research papers written by practising occupational health specialists allow best practice to be shared widely around the profession.
The agenda for Anne Robinson’s occupational health team at British Gas has been set by the company’s dedication to its traditional frontline workers – the engineers who maintain and install equipment for its millions of clients.
After joining British Gas Services in 1997 as healthcare manager, Robinson began to formulate an occupational health scheme that was focused on the people performing this often physically-demanding role. "The engineers are the most important people in the company because they’re the ones that face the customer," says Robinson. "Once you have got them right, the rest follow."
Robinson secured funding for her scheme by stating facts: British Gas could wait for work-related health problems to occur and then pay; it could let sick workers take costly early retirement; or it could provide a support network for its precious frontline workers to prevent work-related health problems becoming serious.
Since her Company Health Cover programme began, British Gas has already started to feel the benefits, with fewer incidences of sickness through work-related problems. The main risk area for work-related injury is for those who install and repair equipment, as often this requires stretching and lifting. Musculoskeletal conditions can become a problem, causing major problems from a business point of view in terms of engineer replacement costs. And Robinson’s six-strong team is not just dedicated to preserving the health of engineers – it also supports its many call-centre staff.
The company required a flexible occupational health system, which worked firmly on the basis of diagnosis rather than treatment. Robinson consulted with unions and senior managers to draw up an OH system, which works in a similar way to the triage system used in accident and emergency wards. At the hub of the system is the healthline nurse, who deals with around five calls per day from employees concerned about their health. The nurse then assesses the individual over the phone and passes the information on to occupational health advisers. Each case is individually monitored and any treatment given by providers externally.
This set-up allows the OH department to act on behalf of patients and the company by rooting out anyone trying to falsely claim sick leave and supporting those who are genuinely ill. The department liaises with HR to deal with disciplinary issues as well as helping staff who have been off sick to return to work. It is these measures Robinson claims make the business case for her department.
Thanks to the department British Gas enjoys lower absenteeism levels and has saved money by preventing sick workers taking the option of early retirement. And using the company’s Intranet system, the department has helped enforce a culture change.
Robinson claims staff are now more willing to come to work because they know any work-related health problems will be dealt with quickly and efficiently.
Company fact file
Team British Gas Company Health Cover
Team leader Anne Robinson, healthcare manager
Number in HR team 6
Number of employees responsible for 5,000 service engineers, plus call centre staff
Main achievements Establishing the OH department as an integral part of the management team and through winning their confidence, achieving ways of reducing sick absence and ill-health retirement levels
Priorities for next 12 months To focus on proactive measures to improve the health status of staff. This will be achieved by implementing a Fitech screening programme to identify health issues and plan relevant health initiatives
Judges’ Comment "A good and cost-effective approach to managing attendance and other workplace health issues. We recognise the strength of good leadership and effective team working which delivers demonstrable benefits to the organisation"