SME staff to get free health and safety and OH advice

The government is to spend 20m in an effort to get smaller businesses to take up free advice on health and safety and OH.

The move is designed to tackle what has long been something of a black hole as regards occupational health – workers in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

The Workplace Health Direct pilot has been set up to offer SMEs free problem-solving advice, support on preventing work-related ill health, advice on getting people back to work, where to access specialist help and a free national advice line.

The scheme was announced by work and pensions’ secretary, Alan Johnson, as part of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) five-year strategy.

The pilot scheme will be run by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), and will offer free workplace visits, a dedicated website, advice on issues such as how to assess and manage workplace risks and help workers return to work, and a telephone-based work-related health advice service.

SMEs will also be able to access support from professionals, such as physiotherapists and ergonomists, said the DWP.

During March, the HSE will seek out organisations willing to help set up the pilots in up to six regions. These will then be selected over the summer and the project is intended to get up and running from early next year.

The project is being linked to similar schemes in other industries and parts of the country, including the Safe and Healthy Working project in Scotland, which has been developing a country-wide OH support service.

Also linked is the Constructing Better Health pilot for the construction industry (see page 4), and a pilot in Kirklees, which is developing an integrated OH service with three primary care trusts and Jobcentre Plus.

Johnson said: “Workplace Help Direct will play a vital role in helping people return to work quickly, reducing the burden on the NHS and lowering the chance of people ending up on incapacity benefit.”

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