An orthopaedic surgeon is an expert on bones. A cardiologist is an expert on the heart.
An occupational health physician is an expert in peoples’ health in relation to work.
So what exactly do we do in occupational health?
Occupational health doctors (often referred to as physicians and, even more often, abbreviated to OHPs) and nurses provide advice to employees and employers that help people stay in work, safe and well, or get back to work if they needed time off for health reasons.
They take into account the impact of health on a person’s abilities and link this to their job role and working environment. They advise if an individual is fit for work, and what adjustments might be helpful to assist them to stay in work safely. They help people returning to work to ensure they don’t go back too fast or too hard, to help avoid their going off sick again.
At the end of the appointment, with the employee’s consent, they write a report in general terms which helps their manager understand how health impacts on the employee, and how they can help going forward.
Employees have a right to withdraw consent for an occupational health assessment or report to be issued to an employer. If this occurs, management will need to make decisions based on the information that is available to them. Occupational Health is only able to tell an employer that an employee is not fit for work without their consent in certain circumstances, for example, if a driver has a health condition that makes it dangerous for them to drive, yet refuses to tell their employer.
They advise management if employees are fit to attend meetings and what additional support may be beneficial if so. They also advise if disability legislation is likely to apply, which is important because if it does an employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments at work.
Occupational health clinicians are also involved with specialist medical assessments to check if employees meet minimum standards for safety-critical roles like driving, flying aircraft or working in certain environments. They help set up and run surveillance programmes to help ensure that the workplace is safe and to check that certain hazards at work are not adversely affecting the health of workers. They suggest ways to minimise risk if any adverse health signs are picked up.
A referral to Occupational Health is part of a supportive process. At Medigold Health we pride ourselves in providing clear, robust advice that benefits employees and employers, and ultimately keeps people in work, safe and well.
Article written by Dr Paul McGovern • Specialty Registrar in Occupational Medicine at Medigold Health