occupational health
5th October 2016

Managing the health and safety of any business means controlling risks in the workplace. Part of that process is considering what might cause harm to people and whether or not you are taking reasonable steps to prevent any harm from occurring.

Whilst traditionally employers have undertaken medicals in order to determine fitness to work on their own, at night or operating fork lift trucks, others have undertaken them to comply with health surveillance responsibilities for work with substances such as asbestos or lead.

More employers are now recognising the benefits of health assessments in managing occupational health risks amongst the wider workforce, and taking proactive as well as reactive steps to manage them more effectively. Areas that organisations might want to consider, in addition to the traditional, include:

  • Company Drivers – While many organisations 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 on the driver themselves recognising signs of ill health such as diabetes, or deterioration in their visual standards. Taking into account that the International Glaucoma Association suggests a person can lose 40% of their vision before they realise they have a problem with their eyesight (source [6] World Glaucoma Day, International Glaucoma Association and Royal National Institute for the Blind, 2009) and Diabetes UK estimates that 590,000 adults have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, this reliance can seem misguided.
  • Absence rates – Recent studies have shown the leading causes of employee absence are mental health and musculoskeletal disorders, yet many organisations are not considering these areas as part of their holistic health and safety management.

Undertaking health assessments for these types of conditions are really useful in helping employers identify any issues that might arise amongst their employees and developing tools to help them support the individuals concerned.

Musculoskeletal disorders are a major cause of injury and ill-health in food and drink manufacture. The health effects could be acute, such as back strain from lifting a heavy or awkward load, or chronic, including backache, sore shoulders or elbows, numb or tingling wrists and hands caused by repetitive work. Mental health and musculoskeletal disorders are inextricably linked. An employee who becomes injured through work might develop mental health issues as a result. Being unable to work can leave someone feeling worthless, unable to provide for their family or even complete simple daily tasks. Their sense of self-worth could suffer leaving them feeling depressed and having a knock-on effect in their personal life.

Alcohol and/or drug use can be a good indicator of mental health concerns. If someone is under significant stress or suffering due to a workplace injury, they might turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. Being aware of changes in people’s personal behaviour could enable you to catch areas of concern before they become an issue.

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

Sound Advice Operations Director Danny Clarke 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 still, often, seen as a taboo subject in the workplace.

“Taking into account that 40% of all working days lost were as a result of work related musculoskeletal disorders, the unseen statistics relating to these problems are much higher. Manual handling training is commonplace and, whilst 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 amongst the workforce and management teams helps improve an organisations culture, awareness and understanding.

With the cost of replacing staff lost due to mental health conditions reported to be £2.4bn per year in the UK alone, 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.

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


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