Occupational health practitioners and providers have been urged to educate their HR colleagues and employers about their role and the benefits they can bring to an organisation, after research found understanding of OH was low.
Although 80% of HR decision-makers polled by health and wellbeing provider BHSF said they offered their staff access to OH, only 26% admitted they were familiar with any leading providers.
Most of the 50 practitioners questioned associated OH with getting staff who had been on sick leave back to work. They were less likely to acknowledge its role in helping prevent workplace health issues or supporting early intervention.
Although 60% said short-term sickness absence was a pressing concern for their organisation, BHSF found few HR decision-makers were aware of the role OH can play in improving absence rates.
Back pain was reported as their most significant health concern, by 68% of respondents. Perhaps surprisingly given recent coverage, mental health was identified as a concern by only 28% of HR practitioners.
Dr Philip McCrea, chief medical officer at BHSF, said: “This research has given us a fascinating insight into the attitudes and concerns of small to medium sized organisations in the UK.
“Due to a lack of understanding around occupational health, providers need to work harder to educate employers about the clear benefits of their services, and show how they can tackle the issues employers are concerned with.”
The government is currently gathering employers’ and OH providers’ thoughts on how the capacity, value and quality of OH services can be improved.
One proposal, contained in its Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss consultation, is the introduction of vouchers and subsidies for SMEs to access OH support. It also wants data to help it determine whether the OH workforce can meet the demand for its services.