By Kevin Huffington, Clinical Director, Central Health Network
Kevin Huffington (right) with Adam Collins of DHL at the global couriers East Midlands base, where Central Occupational Health provide onsite occupational health physiotherapy services
Occupational Health (OH) Services are increasingly becoming recognised as a cost effective way of managing employee’s sickness absence issues in the private and public sectors.
I believe this is further being compounded by the length of time it is now taking to be managed effectively and within adequate time frames by the NHS.
The cost to any organisation, whatever size, of staff absence can be great. Employers face straight forward financial costs, like for example, the employee continuing to be paid whilst off work sick. Whilst they also have to deal with knock on effects including reduced workplace moral, motivation and wellbeing – which all provide an overall cumulative negative effect on productivity.
The two most common reasons for long term sickness absence in my clinical experience and supported by ongoing statistics and research in this field, are Mental Health (MH) issues such as stress and anxiety, and Musculoskeletal (MSK) injury and conditions such as low or general back pain and repetitive strain, which are either gradual in onset or as a consequence of a direct work placed injury.
The possible causes are many. Mental Health issues can be due to internal factors such as increases in workload through non-recruitment or long term sickness absence of colleagues, poor line manager relationships, bullying, poorly perceived wellbeing of the employees and a dislike of job roles.
There can also be external social factors such as family problems, bereavement, family medical illness, children, personal finance and things like alcohol and drug misuse.
Importantly, Mental Health issues can be a combination of both external and internal factors.
Key to managing these conditions is early identification and management. Mental Health issues can lead to very long term sickness absence, causing a significant impact on a company’s finances and productivity.
Early identification or diagnosis is critical, and this can be typically provided by an in house or sub contracted Occupational Health Advisor (OHA), Occupational Health Physician (OHP), or a Clinical Psychologist.
Once identified the individual can be case managed and receive all required treatment. Treatment typically consists of Cognitive Behavioural Treatments (CBT) or general Counselling and Stress and Anxiety management, either individually or as part of a group.
These issues are typically gradual in onset such as a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), poor working ergonomics and/or work place positioning, or they can be due a workplace injury.
Again, key to the management of these conditions is early diagnosis and treatment if indicated. This can be achieved with appropriate self management advice through a telephone triage type service, having on or off site MSK physiotherapy services, and/or carrying out a Work Place Assessment (WPA), or for a desk worker a Display Screen Equipment Assessment (DSE). These can all be supported with health and wellbeing support and training, such as Manual Handling training, and injury prevention education. All of which can be very cost effective interventions.
All of the interventions can usually be provided as part of a full sub-contracted OH service or as an ad-hoc bespoke OH service.
It is important that these OH services prove clinically effective for the user (employee) and cost effective to the business, whatever their size and sector. And a good OH practitioner can be worth their weight in gold, whether they be a Nurse, Physiotherapist, Physician or Psychologist, to name but a few, who work with the company to prevent or minimise both short term and long term sickness absence and facilitate early returns to work.
The OH financial cost to manage these employees back to work can and should be significantly lower than the cost in delaying any intervention, from both direct financial costs and indirect effects overall productivity.
For more information and to discuss how occupational health services can benefit your business, please contact Central Occupational Health. Our experts use their knowledge and experience to promote wellbeing in your workplace, and our professional preventative and rehabilitative programmes of occupational health in the workplace can make a real difference to the health of your workforce – and the health of your profits. To contact us, please click here