What is Independent Occupational Health?

Independent occupational health services provide impartial health and work advice outside of an employer’s own company.

  • They are external specialists contracted to conduct occupational health assessments.
  • Services include pre-employment checks, health surveillance, absence management, rehabilitation and workplace adjustments.
  • Being independent ensures both employer and staff interests are equally represented, without bias.
  • Experts must follow a professional code of ethics to remain objective. ¹
  • Maintaining confidentiality between worker and provider is essential.

The independence of occupational health professionals and services from employers and workers is fundamental to good ethical occupational health practice.

Benefits of independent occupational health:

  • Impartiality and fairness.
  • Fresh perspective from a specialist.
  • No conflicts of interest.
  • Upholds employee confidentiality.

Occupational Health Consultants

  • Consultants are qualified occupational health professionals. This includes nurses, physicians, physiotherapists, ergonomists and psychologists.
  • They specialise in the relationship between work and health.
  • Consultants identify workplace risks and provide guidance on control measures.
  • They advise on fitness for work, reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities or health conditions, and safe return to work plans.

To practice as an occupational health consultant in the UK, professionals must be registered with approved bodies like the Faculty of Occupational Medicine or the Nursing and Midwifery Council. ²

Occupational Health Physician

Specialist occupational health physicians:

  • Are qualified doctors with further training in workplace health.
  • Assess and treat health problems caused by work.
  • Conduct pre-employment medical checks.
  • Oversee health surveillance programs.
  • Make recommendations on fitness for work and adjustments required.
  • Provide evidence-based reports to employees and employers.

Becoming an accredited occupational medicine specialist takes a minimum of 5 years of training post-medical qualification with rigorous exams. ³

The occupational health physician is at the core of the independent occupational health landscape. Their role is distinct from a general practitioner (GP) as they blend medical knowledge with understanding how work environments impact health.

Ensuring Independence

Independent Occupational Health Assessment

One primary service independent occupational health entities offer is the health assessment. This in-depth evaluation is aimed at understanding an employee’s health in relation to their specific job role.

Comprehensive Examinations: These evaluations include detailed medical tests, physical checks, and psychological assessments.

Job-Specific Evaluations: The assessments are tailored to understand the specific demands and challenges of particular job roles.

Recommendations and Follow-Ups: Post-assessment, there’s usually a set of recommendations. These could range from medical treatments and therapy to workplace adjustments or even a change in job roles in extreme cases.

Case Study

John works in manufacturing. He was off work with severe back pain being managed by his GP. His employer’s HR department referred John for an independent occupational health assessment before he could return to his manual handling job.

The independent occupational health physiotherapist thoroughly assessed John’s back condition in relation to his work duties. They recommended a phased return to work starting with amended light duties, alongside workplace adjustments like a special chair and regular breaks.

The employer supported John’s gradual return to full duties as advised. As the occupational health provider was fully independent, John could be assured the recommendations were impartial and in his best interests.

References

1. RCOT Professional standards and ethics. Available at: https://www.rcot.co.uk/practice-resources/rcot-publications/downloads/rcot-standards-and-ethics [Accessed 20 September 2023].

2. Health & Safety Executive – Occupational Health Available at: https://www.hse.gov.uk/health-surveillance/occupational-health/assessing-competence.htm [Accessed 20 September 2023].

3. NHS – Occupational Medicine Health Careers. Available at: https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/explore-roles/doctors/roles-doctors/occupational-medicine [Accessed 20 September 2023].

Speak to an Occupational Health professional today.

Article fact-checked and approved by Dr. Amun Kalia and Dr Deryk Waller