occupational health
30th June 2016

A keen attention to health and safety within any organisation is key to maintaining a strong and healthy workforce.  The management of health and safety means mitigating workplace risks, considering what might cause harm to people and assessing whether businesses are taking reasonable, preventative steps.

Recent studies have shown that the leading causes of employee absence are mental health and musculoskeletal disorders, yet many organisations are not considering these areas as part of their routine health and safety management. With the cost of replacing staff lost due to mental health conditions alone reported to be £2.4bn per year in the UK, taking a proactive approach and building a culture of acceptance and support within the workplace will only serve to increase productivity and profitability for businesses.

Employers have traditionally relied on medicals and health assessments to determine their employees’ fitness to work in confined spaces, at height or operating fork lift trucks, or to comply with health surveillance responsibilities for work with substances such as asbestos or lead. An organisation which employs company drivers for example may want to consider carrying out health assessments as part of an overarching workplace transport programme. Whilst many organisations will adopt workplace transport risk assessments to help ensure their drivers are driving safely, identifying an individual’s fitness to drive can be challenging. Some organisations rely solely on their drivers’ ability to recognise their own signs of ill health, such as diabetes or deterioration in their visual standards. However, considering that a person can lose 40 per cent of their vision before realising they have a problem with their eyesight (International Glaucoma Association and Royal National Institute for the Blind), and that 590,000 UK adults have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes (Diabetes UK), an employee’s judgement of the state of their own health can, at times, be misleading.

Now, a greater number of employers throughout the UK are recognising the benefits of health assessments in managing occupational health risks among the wider workforce, and taking both proactive and reactive steps to manage them more effectively.

In the food and drink manufacturing sector, musculoskeletal disorders are a major cause of injury and ill-health. Employees in this industry have been known to suffer with acute health effects such as back strain from lifting heavy or awkward loads, chronic pains such as backache, sore shoulders or elbows, or numb or tingling wrists and hands caused by the repetitive work associated with a food production line. Undertaking health assessments for these types of conditions is useful in helping employers identify any issues that might arise among their employees and developing tools to help them support the individuals concerned.

Furthermore, such musculoskeletal disorders have been inextricably linked with mental health. Employees who become injured through work may subsequently develop mental health issues, as being left unable to work may cause an individual to lose their sense of value, or purpose, or even be unable to complete simply daily tasks. Their sense of self-worth could suffer, leading to feelings of depression and having a knock-on effect in their personal life. In extreme cases, a colleague suffering from the significant stress of a workplace injury may turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.

Assessment of Repetitive Tasks (ART) and mental health assessments play a vital role in the wellbeing of employees in all industries, and are something that Danny Clarke, Operations Director at Sound Advice, recommends all employers consider.

He says: “Health assessments have an integral role to play in managing health and safety on site. As health and safety professionals we need to ensure we are considering all the facts in managing risks, taking into consideration the physical as well as the psychological risks. When you consider that one in four adults will experience a mental health condition in any given year, it’s vitally important that employers address what is often still seen as a taboo subject in the workplace.

“Taking into account that 40 per cent of all lost working days are a result of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the unseen statistics relating to these problems are much higher. Manual handling training is commonplace and, while it has a role to play in instructing staff on how to move items safely, we must recognise that more can be done to ensure individuals are fit to move items, and assess the impact from repetitive tasks.”

Undertaking health assessments and ensuring individuals are managing any existing conditions helps employers to reduce the risks to employees and others. Raising awareness among the workforce and management teams will enable an organisation to improve its culture, awareness and understanding towards health and safety issues.

To find out more about how mental health and ART assessments could benefit your business, call us today 0845 862 8040


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