Workplace health reforms won’t work unless occupational health tsar is appointed

The  government’s ambitious plans for reforming workplace health lack cohesion and are unlikely to have any effect unless the various agencies and departments involved start to pull in the same direction, two influential bodies have warned.

The Department for Work and Pensions joined forces with the Department of Health last October to publish a blueprint, Health, Work and Well-being – caring for our future, on how to improve the health of the UK’s working age population.

But the Work Foundation and London Health Commission have argued that any workplace health reform has to tackle the inextricable link between healthy workplaces and economic performance.

The two bodies suggest in a paper Healthy Work: Productive Workplaces  that too many people were still employed in jobs that caused ill health and led to poor productivity.

Sickness absence, dependence on welfare benefits and low pay have their root in “bad jobs” – in other words, jobs that give employees little voice or control.

Other issues included imbalances between effort and reward, bad management and poor job design.

The timetable for appointing an OH ‘tsar’ to spearhead the government’s reforms appears to have slipped.

A national director for OH was expected to be appointed by the end of last year, but is now thought unlikely before the spring.

Dr Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser to the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said the strategy potentially represented a “paradigm shift” in how workplace health is viewed in Britain, from simply dealing with sickness as it arises to preventing ill-health in the first place.

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