What is Occupational Health?

04 January 2021

Occupational health is the study of both health & safety and the wellbeing of employees.

There are many actions that can help to keep employees safe. These range from health checks to establishing preventative measures. Occupation health standards aim to improve the safety of everyone within the workplace.

Staff wellbeing should be a top priority for employers. 

Without caring for the health and wellbeing of employees, an organisation can suffer some large fines, at the very least.

The best companies know how important occupational health is in the UK. 

Peninsula explores more of what makes occupational health important below.

What does an occupational health officer do?

Employers often ask ‘what do occupational health officers do and do I need one?’ 

Otherwise known as a health & safety officer, an occupational health officer primarily works to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. They are responsible for managing occupational health and wellbeing in the workplace.

The role involves:

  • Establishing safe working practices and encouraging their uses
  • Implementing improvements to working processes and health & safety methods
  • Supporting the management of sickness absences

Occupational health services conducted by an officer include assessing risks to employee’s health and outlining ways to prevent accidents.

Health assessments can take more than just health and safety into account. There are many factors that officers can consider during an occupational health assessment.

This can include:

  • Health and safety concerns
  • Long-term health issues
  • Potential harm to mental health

Health & safety officers may be employed by a company or offer their services externally. Assessing safety at work and workplace wellbeing involves many different duties.

These involve creating and implementing health & safety policies and procedures. Officers will also consistently update these policies with any changes to the law. 

An officer’s duties also involve conducting regular inspections with risk assessments. These can include assessing an employee’s fitness for work and whether an employee can return to work after an injury.

What power does an occupational health officer have?

When considering how a workplace has affected the health of an employee, a health officer can intervene.

Occupational health referrals can assess an employee’s health at work. In some cases, the employee may be required to temporarily leave the workplace.

They have the power to:

  • Cease an employee’s work: if an officer believes that an employee isn’t fully recovered, they can order it to cease. They are also capable of ceasing an entire department working if necessary.
  • Send an ill employee home: if an officer determines that an employee has ill health that’s detrimental to others in the workplace, they can send the employee home.

Referring to occupational health officers

If anyone in the workplace wants to discuss their health at work or any wellbeing concerns at work, they must first submit an occupational health referral. 

If management wants to seek the advice of an officer, clinician or physician, they must have the concerned employee’s consent. Signed consent will make referrals easier overall.

This consent includes divulging sensitive information. An employee will have to be honest with information in order to justify this referral. 

This includes sensitive, medical information. Even if the employee, management or any other party involved is bound to medical confidentiality, the advice of an officer will require access to this information.

Complex medical histories can’t be withheld if they can potentially be relevant to improving health & safety at work. This is why consent is vital during the process.

With an employee’s consent comes their rights. An employee’s rights state that they have the right to access the information you hold at any time.

The same is true of privacy. Employers should explain that medical confidentiality is a part of their occupational health referral employee rights.

Peninsula’s help with health & safety at work

Navigating employee consent, sensitive information and safety at work can be taxing. Peninsula understands how any company can find it difficult to handle this.

This is why we offer simple services to assist with health & safety at work. 

Whether it’s 24-hour health & safety advice or 24-hour HR advice, Peninsula is here to help.

Get in touch with us today by calling 0800 028 2420.

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