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PROMOTING, PROTECTING AND SUPPORTING HEALTH IN WORK

Health and work update at 4 March 2024

  1. National initiatives to promote health and work

 

Last Autumn the UK Government consulted on proposals aimed at increasing employers’ use of occupational health services[1], and by HM Treasury and HMRC to explore the role of tax incentives to boost occupational health provision by employers[2].  This could make a difference, for example if HMRC rules change such that employers might fund some assessment and treatment to enable a return to work, without the employee being liable for tax where this is currently seen as a benefit in kind.

The Government have now appointed a new Occupational Health Taskforce to improve in-work sickness and reduce numbers of people falling out of work due to ill health[3].  This group is led by Dame Carol Black, who has been advising Government on work and health over the last two decades, and comprises senior figures within Occupational Health, including Dr Steve Boorman CBE, who is Chair of the Council for Work and Health and also leading NHS England’s Growing Occupational Health and Wellbeing Together strategy[4].

With an estimated 1.8 million workers reporting work-related ill health in 2022/23, successive governments have long been concerned about long-term sickness.  The Task Force met for the first-time last week.  It is expected that outputs of the task force will be reported over the coming months.

As can be seen from the Government’s press release on the Occupational Health Taskforce, only 45% of workers in Britain currently have access to some form of Occupational Health service, and just 28% of employers in Britain provide some form of occupational health, with large employers (89%) nearly three times more likely than Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) (28%) to do so.

  1. Pilot occupational health provision to small & medium sized enterprises

Trials are underway to help SMEs with the costs of workplace health assessments for their employees, offering eligible SMEs an 80% discount on workplace health assessments for all their employees.  A private sector workplace health provider would do this assessment.  Safe Effective Quality Occupational Health Service (SEQOHS) is the industry standard for occupational health services in the UK, and on the SEQOHS website employers can find information on accredited providers[5].

  1. Carers’ leave

In our day-to-day work in occupational health, we speak with many employees who have caring responsibilities; sometime the “sandwich generation” with care for children and elderly parents. We have seen an impact of these responsibilities on some employees, and the need to balance these with work commitments.  Employment law changes from 6th April 2024 will include the right to unpaid carer’s leave; this would be for one week every 12 months[6].  The right to a reasonable amount of time off to deal with an emergency continues, as set out in Government guidance[7].

Dr Robin Cordell

MBA FRCP FFOM

Consultant Occupational Physician

Deputy Chair, Council for Work and Health

4 March 2024

[1] Government consultation on widening access to occupational health services at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/occupational-health-working-better

[2] Government consultation aimed at employers to explore the role of tax incentives to boost occupational health provision by employers at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/joint-hmt-hmrc-consultation-on-tax-incentives-for-occupational-health

[3] New occupational health taskforce to tackle in-work sickness and drive down inactivity at: New Occupational Health Taskforce to tackle in-work sickness and drive down inactivity – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[4] NHS England growing occupational health and wellbeing together strategy at: https://www.nhshealthatwork.co.uk/growingoccupationalhealth.asp

[5] SEQOHS at: https://www.seqohs.org/default.aspx

[6] Government guidance on carer’s leave from 6 Apr 2024 at: https://www.gov.uk/carers-leave

[7] Time off for family and dependants at: https://www.gov.uk/time-off-for-dependants

 

Council for Work and Health – Current issues in Health and Work February 2024

PROMOTING, PROTECTING AND SUPPORTING HEALTH IN WORK

  1. Protecting health at work from physical hazards

We in the Council for Work and Health have previously provided guidance on promoting, protecting and supporting mental health at work[1].  This month we bring attention to some other risks to health and how risks might be managed.

Nearly all employers will have at least some employees who use display screen equipment (DSE) daily, and many employees work a hybrid model, using DSE for part of the working week at home.  During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic those who could work from home were told to do so; a rise was then seen in work related upper limb disorder and other adverse effects from using DSE.  The majority of employers will ensure employees working a day or more from home each week have the equipment for their DSE workstations at home to be set up as they would be in the office, but we still occasionally see some employees who have less than optimal home workstations.  HSE provide advice on working safely with DSE, and guidance for employers and employees on working from home[2].

Most employers of those who use vibrating tools, such as workers in construction and in facilities and grounds maintenance staff, will be aware of the need to protect workers from the effects of hand-arm vibration[3].   Occupational health professionals provide advice on prevention and health surveillance, which may include HAVS Tier 4 health surveillance assessments by occupational physicians when symptoms are identified on Tier 1 or Tier 2 screening questionnaires.  There is now increased attention on the effects of whole body vibration at work, and HSE have a webinar first issued in September 2023 that may be of interest to employers of those who may be at risk of back pain resulting from whole body vibration while driving[4].

  1. Protecting health at work from biological hazards

At this time of year, respiratory infections are common, including COVID-19.  Recent Government guidance has focused on preventing ill health from respiratory infections, including COVID-19, especially in social care settings[5].  For all workplaces, we would advocate the hierarchy of controls approach[6].  Whereas it will not be possible to eliminate respiratory infections, engineering and administrative controls may reduce risk to health and productivity.  Ventilation is an engineering control to reduce the likelihood of transmission of harmful substances such as dusts, toxic chemicals as well as biological agents[7]. Simple solutions will often be the most practicable.  As during the COVID-19 pandemic, discouraging presenteeism and keeping people away from the workplace when they have respiratory infections would be an example of an administrative control.  Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks are not generally advised now, unless the employer’s risk assessment indicates that this is needed.  Immunisation against COVID-19 and influenza remains advised for the over 65s, pregnant women and those who are clinically more vulnerable.  Occupational health professionals can also provide influenza vaccination for staff of those clients requesting this; this may reduce absence resulting from influenza.

  1. Supporting the health of those with Long COVID

Those of us engaged in engaged in health and work continue to see a number of people who have prolonged symptoms of COVID-19 (Long COVID)[8].  Whereas techniques taught through Long COVID services[9] will assist most people, there is currently no “cure” for Long COVID.  There are those who continue to have long term absence and/or difficulties at work, for whom there does not seem to be a likely time when this will resolve[10].

For those who have not improved sufficiently after a year or more to sustain them in their work, and prolonged absence and/or adjustments in place cannot continue to be accommodated by the employer, occupational physicians may advise that on the balance of probabilities they are not likely to improve for the foreseeable future.  The employer might follow their medical capacity processes, which may lead to the employee’s dismissal.

Where their pension scheme has this provision, occupational health professionals may advise that some of these employees also be considered for ill health retirement (IHR), i.e. early payment of pension benefits.  Under the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) for example, IHR enables early payment of pension for those considered to meet the criteria for IHR.  The first criterion is that on the balance of probabilities the individual is considered unable to continue in their substantive role, and that this incapacity would be likely to continue at least until their retirement age.  The second criterion is that the employee is also unfit for other gainful employment (30 hours or more in any other work)[11].  There are three tiers for IHR under LGPS depending on how long it is considered incapacity for other work is likely to continue.

We consider that this approach supports the best interests of employers and employees, not least as for some people continuing to struggle in work may set them back in their recovery.  Although we advise that it is not likely that the employee would be able to return to the work they had been doing before the illness impacted on them, i.e. their substantive role, this does not mean that they cannot work at all.  They may for example in time be able to undertake some part time work. Being in work that is of the right type and amount for the individual is supportive of physical and mental health[12].

 

Dr Robin Cordell MBA FRCP FFOM

Consultant Occupational Physician

Deputy Chair, Council for Work and Health

[1] Council for Work and Health at: https://www.councilforworkandhealth.org.uk/blog/

[2] HSE guidance on homeworking at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/home-working/index.htm

[3] HSE guidance on hand-arm vibration at work at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/vibration/hav/index.htm

[4] Musculoskeletal Disorders and Whole-Body Vibration From Driving: Manage the Risk to Your Workforce at: Course: Musculoskeletal Disorders and Whole-Body Vibration From Driving: Manage the Risk to Your Workforce (hse.gov.uk)

[5] Infection prevention and control (IPC) in adult social care: acute respiratory infection (ARI) as at 31 January 2024 at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/infection-prevention-and-control-in-adult-social-care-acute-respiratory-infection/infection-prevention-and-control-ipc-in-adult-social-care-acute-respiratory-infection-ari

[6] Hierarchy of controls at: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hierarchy/default.html

[7] Ventilation to reduce the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19 at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/ventilation-to-reduce-the-spread-of-respiratory-infections-including-covid-19

[8] Prolonged symptoms of COVID-19 (Long COVID) at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/covid-19/long-term-effects-of-covid-19-long-covid/

[9] Rehabilitation through Long COVID services at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/post-covid-syndrome-long-covid/

[10] Yale Medicine.  What Happens When You Still Have Long COVID Symptoms at: https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/long-covid-symptoms

[11] Information on ill health retirement under the Local Government Pension Scheme at: https://www.lgpsmember.org/your-pension/planning/ill-health-retirement/

[12] TSO 2006.  Is work good work is good for your health and wellbeing ?  Waddell G and Burton K at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5a7cd68640f0b6629523c1de/hwwb-is-work-good-for-you-exec-summ.pdf

Health & Wellbeing at Work conference – 12-13 March 2024

Health & Wellbeing at Work offers visitors a diverse and highly relevant conference agenda created entirely with workplace health and wellbeing professionals in mind.
With sessions available across multiple conference hubs, it’s important to plan your visit ahead of 12-13 March and decide which of our 150+ sessions will be most relevant to you and your role, and are most likely to provide answers to current issues you may be facing or help improve your workplace health and wellbeing strategies.
All 150+ sessions are included in your ticket price and you are able to attend as many or as little sessions as you choose when at the event. With sessions covering a wide range of subject areas, here’s some top picks to get your plan underway. Click the links below to find out more about the session, timings and speakers:
  • Health and Productivity in the Workplace – Future Trends and Where Next. View session.
  • Recognising and Understanding When Your Workplace Wellbeing Programme Needs to Evolve. View session.
  • Coaching Advice for Managers When Managing Employee Health and Wellbeing. View session.
  • Ensuring A Good Return to Work Process When Supporting Employee Mental Health. View session.
Early bird rates apply until the 23rd of January, don’t miss out! We’ve started your registration with details previously provided, click here to complete your registration today and save £10 compared to standard ticket prices!

ACPOHE / Disability Webinar – 18 January 2024

Our next ACPOHE/DisAbility webinar, Physical Disability in the Workplace on 18/01/24, is now open for registration.
The webinar will cover what a physical disability is, lived experience examples, problems & barriers encountered in the workplace, and solutions. This will include how we can make the OH experience more accessible for a Physical Disability service user.
Physical Disability in the Workplace
Date: Thursday 18th January 2024
Time: 12:00 – 13:00
Theme: Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging
Location: Teams webinar
Speakers: Greet Janssens, Angela Webster, Iona Bateman
Everyone is welcome! Please share this invitation with your colleagues and friends. The webinar is free to attend.
Click on the link below to read more and register for the webinar:

WHEC WEBINAR: Assessment of evidence of welding fume as carcinogenic to humans. (Thursday 7 December 2023)

WHEC will be presenting their findings on the strength of the evidence on the carcinogenicity of welding fume.

Seminar:

13:00-14:00  7th December: Assessment of the strength of evidence underpinning the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassification of welding fume as carcinogenic to humans.

Join us via Teams at 13:00 Thursday 7th December.

Register here: https://forms.office.com/e/5HrDx9L40C

Please note: this seminar will be recorded and made available with captions after the event.

There will be a short question and answer session with the WHEC speakers at the end of the seminar.

About this event

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed the data on the carcinogenicity of welding fume. HSE requested the opinion of the Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC) who will be presenting their latest findings on the strength of the evidence, particularly on whether a distinction should be made between fumes from different types of metal or different processes. WHEC concluded that all welding fumes cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer, and that it is not possible to identify specific welding processes or base metals that give rise to this risk. UV exposure from arc welding processes causes melanoma in the eye and may also increase the risk of skin cancer.

“The increased risk of lung cancer in welders is well recognised, but until recently it was considered a risk primarily of stainless steel welding, as well as bystander exposures, particularly to asbestos. This WHEC review of recent published scientific evidence has confirmed the conclusions of a recent IARC report that the increased risk of lung cancer is unlikely to be limited to these exposures and that no distinction can be made between different types of welding or the different metals welded in increasing the risk of lung cancer. The important implication is that in implementing measures to control levels of exposure to welding fume no distinction can be made between different welding processes or the metals welded.”

Professor Sir Anthony Newman-Taylor, Chair WHEC.

Download the report here: Assessment of the strength of evidence underpinning the IARC reclassification of welding fume as carcinogenic to humans

Speakers: Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC)

The development of policy in HSE needs to be informed by the best available contemporary scientific evidence.

HSE formed WHEC to provide independent expert advice on:

  • new and emerging workplace health issues
  • new and emerging evidence relating to existing workplace health issues
  • the quality and relevance of the evidence base on workplace health issues

Find out more about Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC) here: WHEC

Speakers:

John Cherrie is Emeritus Professor of Human Health at Heriot Watt University and former Research Director at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh. He has been an exposure scientist since 1979, in a wide range of research and teaching. John is a member of the WHEC and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. He has carried out several research projects on welding fume exposure.

Len Levy OBE is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Cranfield. Prior to this he was Head of Toxicology and Risk Assessment at the UK Medical Research Council’s Institute for Environment and Health at the University of Leicester.

He is an occupational and environmental toxicologist and risk assessor, and holds a PhD in experimental pathology from the Institute of Cancer Research in London. He has held academic positions at the University of Aston and the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Occupational Health, where he was Reader in Occupational Health, continuing his research into the causes and mechanisms of occupational cancer.

Other communications activity (articles etc):

  1. Cherrie JW, Levy L: Managing Occupational Exposure to Welding Fume: New Evidence Suggests a More Precautionary Approach is Needed. Ann Work Expo Health 2020, 64(1):1-4.

ACPOHE Webinar: DisAbility Series – Neurodiversity in the Workplace – 13 December 2023

Registration is now open for the fourth of our ACPOHE/DisAbility webinars which will be about Neurodivergence in the workplace.

The webinar will cover what neurodivergence is, lived experience examples, problems & barriers encountered in the workplace, and solutions. This will include how we can make the OH experience more accessible for a Neurodivergent service user.

Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Date: Wednesday 13th December 2023

Time: 13:00 – 14:00

Theme: Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

Location: Teams webinar

Speakers: Greet Janssens, Angela Webster, Steph Phillips

Everyone is welcome! Please share this invitation with your colleagues and friends. The webinar is free and will be recorded. A link will be made available afterwards on our webinars page for you to watch if you can’t make it.

Link for more info and registration: https://acpohe.csp.org.uk/news-events/events/events-listing/acpohe-webinar-neurodiversity-workplace-131223

ACPOHE:   Fit Note resources developed by ACPOHE

(October 2023)

NEW Fit note resources to help awareness of the importance of supporting patients back to work

ACPOHE is pleased to showcase our new set of resources, available to download from our Work & Health Learning and Development Hub –  (click Free Guest Access and go to Resource Library).

There is more information below, and all resources are on the ACPOHE website:  https://acpohe.csp.org.uk/content/new-fit-note-resources-help-awareness-importance-supporting-patients-back-work

 

Resources include:

  1. A 6-minute podcast to outline our new resources and why they are important
  2. A video (to play on screen in GP reception waiting rooms) to help manage patient expectations of ‘fit note’ certification.  This is 1 minute in length.
  3. A 2-minute video aimed at increasing awareness to GPs of the role of FCPs, particularly around work conversations and completion of the fit note. Please share this with the GPs you work alongside.
  4. An 8-minute training video, which is a reminder of the importance of keeping people at work to help health outcomes (aimed at GPs, FCPs, other healthcare workers in primary care.
  5. Infographics to patients on what is the fit note, and how to get the most out of your fit note (ideal for notice boards within GP practices).
  6. Infographics to healthcare professionals on completing the fit note (a quick easy reminder to all involved in completing the fit note).
  7. Completed fit notes, with audio presentation on a variety of case studies.

Question Time Webinar: 18 October 2023 from 1215-1315 – Video available now!

We held our latest panel webinar on 18th October and attached is the video for your information.


SEQOHS standards have been revised and launched in June 2023. With only weeks to go before they go live, we will be discussing with our panel, the relevance of SEQOHS standards in a multi-professional speciality, the drivers to become SEQOHS accredited, what the future holds for the quality scheme and is it the answer to elevating quality in the speciality. Join us live or register via the link below to get access to the recording afterwards.

Please do share this with your members and colleagues. 

 

Council4WH Panel Webinar (2)

Statement: Occupational Health Qualifications and Titles (FOHN / NSOH)

The Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing and the National School of Occupational Health have launched a statement on Occupational Health Qualification and Titles so as to clarify the various education pathways and qualifications for occupational nurses, as well as the commonly used titles and their significance.

View the statement on our website https://www.fohn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Occupational-health-qualifications-and-titles.pdf

If you have any feedback then please contact either Christina Butterworth chair@fohn.org.uk or Janet O’Neill janet.oneill@hee.nhs.uk

http://www.fohn.org.uk/

27 September 2023

“Understanding Recent Trends in Ill-Health Driven Fallout from the UK Job Market” 25 September 2023

The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) today released the first in-depth study into the impact of ill-health on the UK’s working population, “Understanding Recent Trends in Ill-Health Driven Fallout from the UK Job Market”.

Launched following Occupational Health Awareness Week (18-24th September), the report analyses data trends – providing a comprehensive picture of the current health challenges experienced by the UK workforce.

 Key findings include:

  • Long-term sickness in women across all age groups has been rising since 2014, with women becoming economically inactive at a higher rate than men.
  • An increase in economic inactivity in young men, aged 16 to 24, with sharp increases in mental health issues.
  • Occupations with a low ability to work from home are more likely to see people leave the workforce due to long-term sickness.
  • Pressures in health and social care delivery, including the impact of COVID-19, has led to backlogs for treatment and worsening health outcomes.
  • The UK has an ageing population, high rates of excess weight, and alcohol consumption and a legacy of smoking, resulting in long-term physical and mental health problems.

Of the 41.6 million people in the UK of working age (age 16-64), 2.5 million (1 in 16 people) are inactive due to long term sickness. The historically high number of people off work, long-term sick, remains an immediate and pressing concern for the Government. More than 11 million people are living with long term conditions that can affect their ability to work.

Of the 4 million people living with mental health conditions only 2 million are employed. Nearly 60 percent of people who are economically inactive and left work in the last two to three years have a work limiting health condition.

The analysis demonstrates how occupation, gender, and disability affects getting back to work. Occupational health (OH) provision is a key solution to this issue. SOM is calling for comprehensive OH coverage, with only 50 percent of workers currently accessing OH.

Government steps have been taken, including in the Spring Budget, to support OH so those with health conditions can continue work, but more must be done to keep people healthy at work and reverse these trends. New Government consultations on OH and Tax incentives on occupational health (OH) are welcomed and are currently open.

SOM hopes that publishing this data will support policy conversations to achieve universal OH coverage.

SOM CEO Nick Pahl said: “The historically high number of people off work long-term sick remains an immediate and pressing concern for the Government. Without investment in occupational health, these figures will continue to get worse.

“This report helps us better understand the patterns and causes of ill-health driven fallout from the UK job market. It’s vital that we understand why the UK is seeing a rise in inactivity rates compared to other OECD countries.

“We need to understand what the catalysts are, the drivers of fallout, and what factors contribute to preventing people return to work.”

ENDS

 

Notes to Editors

 

For more information, contact:

 

Alan Grant (Account Manager, Orbit Communications) – alan.grant@orbit.scot / 0783 320 9171

 

Rachel Goddard (Account Director, Orbit Communications) – rachel.goddard@orbit.scot / 0770 216 9485

 

About SOM

The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) is the organisation for healthcare professionals working in or with an interest in occupational health. It is concerned with:

  • the protection of the health of people in the workplace
  • the prevention of occupational injuries and disease
  • related environmental issues.

SOM stimulates research and works with the government, the healthcare community, health charities and other bodies to promote a healthier workforce. It also acts as the voice of occupational health (OH), responding to consultative documents and media enquiries. A national leader in providing continued professional development and education for all healthcare professionals working in OH, it is a forum for the exchange of ideas, best practice, and networking opportunities.

 

Visit www.som.org.uk for more information.