Occupational health must be at the heart of how employers tackle workplace health, particularly stress, according to work and pensions secretary Alan Johnson.
Speaking at a conference of the Commercial Occupational Health Providers’ Association in December, Johnson said employers could not afford to leave sickness management to doctors.
“Occupational health and safety is increasingly being seen as an integral part of workplace well-being – as well as a fundamental part of effective business management – so it is an enabler not a hindrance,” he told delegates.
Managers need to ensure they are not tackling stress in isolation from their employees – unions and OH both had an important role to play in this – he added.
“The presence of union committees and representatives lowers the odds, not just of injury but also illness, when compared with arrangements that merely inform employees of occupational health issues,” he said.
His speech coincided with the announcement of a major expansion to the Pathways to Work scheme, which helps people to move off incapacity benefit into paid work. It will be increased to cover one third of the country following successful pilot tests which have led to twice as many incapacity benefit claimants moving into work as usual, he said .
Johnson also announced new training materials for GPs to help them support patients’ return work more effectively, and the creation of a pilot scheme giving doctors better advice on fitness for work and rehabilitation.
This would include making better use of GPs specialising in mental health, musculoskeletal and other conditions and placing employment advisers in GP surgeries, he said.