Why is Occupational Health Essential to your Business?

Occupational Health (OH) is an often overlooked essential service that businesses with any number of employees need. Just as you need HR to put in place systems that help your staff perform well, reduce absenteeism, and monitor your documentation, so you need OH to ensure your staff are fit and able to work to the best of their abilities.

A person’s work can affect their health; conversely, their health can affect their work. This balance has to be managed carefully, which is when you may need specialist OH support. They help you to achieve the balance between assuring your employees are well enough to work, whilst providing advice on ensuring the work is helping them to regain a sense of purpose and increased self-esteem.

How do you reach a balance?

OH focuses on the diagnosis and prevention of diseases caused by work. Through a combination of improved diagnosis of occupational disease, lower exposures to harmful substances, and elimination of the most toxic chemicals, there has been a significant reduction in their incidence. Sadly, though, diseases such as asbestosis, occupational asthma, lead poisoning, and noise-induced hearing loss still occur to this day.

More recently, there has been a shift towards ill-health caused by a mixture of occupational and non-occupational factors, such as stress-related illness and musculoskeletal disorders. OH has, therefore, also taken on the role of assessing an employee’s fitness to undertake a specific job, especially when the job deals with the public’s safety, such as airline pilots, firemen or bus drivers. Assessments may also apply for specific job requirements such as surgeons, or employees regularly travelling overseas.

Duty of Care

While your company is not responsible for the general health of your employees, you do have a moral and legal responsibility for the occupational health of your people. In other words, ensuring that their work does not make them ill, and that they are medically fit for their job.

Specialising in the relationship between work and health, OH is essentially an independent, objective advisory service, providing health advice to both employee and employer. Its main objectives are:

  • To identify and help prevent illness caused by work – both physical and mental health
  • To advise on the fitness of an employee to do their job, which could involve requesting medical reports from doctors or other specialists
  • To provide emergency response on site
  • To improve and maintain the health of the workforce to the mutual benefit of both employee and employer

When to Bring in an Expert

A client of mine had an employee who suffered with severe anxiety. Unfortunately, the anxiety was having a detrimental effect on her work, which in turn caused further issues to both the employee and the business. By then, my client simply wanted to sack the individual, which of course could have meant ending up in court for unfair dismissal.

It was an awkward situation, one which I knew needed specialist help. I called in the expertise of Pippa Clark, an OH specialist. Being particularly aware of the Equality Act and sensitive to the mental health needs of the employee, Pippa was able to ask questions that I didn’t know to ask. From that, we were able to manage the situation to both the employer’s and employee’s satisfaction.

Autumn Employment Law Update Workshop with Pippa Clark, Occupational Health Specialist

Our next Employment Law Update Workshop is taking place on 10 October 2019. Do come along and benefit from the expertise of Pippa Clark, an OH Specialist. Pippa will explain how OH can help your business to help your employees to maintain safe and productive working lives and how OH can help your business to develop a healthy and productive workforce.

As usual, the venue is The Meeting Room at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, at a cost of just £20 plus VAT, including refreshments. The workshop will run from 9.30am to 1pm.

Click here to reserve your place online.

Are You Sitting (too) Comfortably?

This guest blog was written by Karen Ambrose of the Karen Ambrose McTimoney Chiropractic practice.

 

According to some research that I read about towards the end of last year, people who work in offices are thought to be ‘dangerously sedentary’, sitting more than people over the age of 75.

Some experts say that sitting down is as bad for us as smoking, while others tell us that standing up too much is also bad. So how much sitting is too much, and what are the alternatives? What should we do to stay healthy and mobile?

What’s so bad about sitting?

You might think that sitting for too long is bad for your muscles and posture, and this is true. Sitting puts a strain on your back, hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thighs), neck and shoulders. It also causes the gluteal muscles in your bottom to wither, especially if you slouch in your chair.

However, scientists are also worried about what happens inside your body when you sit for too long. After 90 minutes of sitting, your metabolism dramatically winds down and cells aren’t operating at a high enough level to keep your system ‘oiled’. It has been likened to turning off your heating in the summer. When you turn it back on again as the evenings get cooler in the autumn, you worry about the system creaking, or corrosion in unused pipes causing leaks. It’s the same when you sit for a long time – your ‘system’ is essentially turned off. This affects every structure in your body, from brain function to blood flow. After just an hour of sitting, your arteries’ ability to expand is impaired by 50%. This is one of the earliest markers for heart disease and strokes, along with high blood pressure. If you spend a long time sitting, your insulin levels can also be high, which means that you are at higher risk of diabetes.

You don’t even have to be overweight to be at risk, although it makes it worse. A study of older women found that sitting for more than 10 hours a day meant their bodies were biologically eight years older!

You might not have heard of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, but it plays a crucial role in breaking down fats and sugars in your body and sending them to your muscles to be burned off. Your body can’t produce it while you’re sitting down because you’re not using your muscles. Just standing up is enough to activate it.

German researchers have also shown that the risks of some cancers – bowel, womb lining and lung – increases with every two hours that you spend in a chair.

How much is too much?

The research being carried out into the effects of sitting for too long are in their early stages, but what has already been seen is that the problems start to show themselves if you sit for more than 60-70% of your working hours. So if you sit for more than seven hours a day in total, you will be harming yourself. There is a scaling down effect if you sit for less time.

A report by Public Health England concluded that office workers should be on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day. An Edinburgh University study revealed that middle-aged office workers sat for 7.8 hours a day, which compared to 7.4 hours for people over the age of 75, which researchers say is far too much. They also recommend that you shouldn’t sit for more than an hour at a time. Standing up is enough to engage your muscles just enough to activate your whole system – your brain, your metabolism, your nervous system. Because you’re on your feet, you are more likely to be doing some light movement too. So before you read on – get up and move around or make yourself a cup of coffee before you come back to read the rest of this!

What about standing up?

So does this mean that you should spend more time standing up, instead of sitting at your desk? Not necessarily. Studies into sedentary behaviour shows that people assume they’re being told to stand up all the time rather than sit down. But that’s bad for you too as it brings with it a danger of varicose veins and feet and joint pain.

What’s important is getting a balance between sitting, standing and moving through your day. ‘Binge sitting’ for hours on end is very bad for you and must be broken up. You could invest in a desk that moves up and down, depending on whether you want to work sitting down or standing up. Or you could take regular breaks and go for a short walk. Other leading researchers recommend that in every hour, you should spend no more than 40 minutes sitting down, 15 minutes standing up and 5 minutes moving around. It’s not always possible to do this, but what’s important is to have a go and be aware of how much time you spend sitting. Going for a brisk walk at lunch time will certainly help. You can also change the way that you work, so instead of emailing a colleague, get up, walk across the office and speak to them.

If you find yourself sitting in front of the TV for hours at the end of the day, try getting up during the ad breaks and putting the remote control out of reach so that you have to move. Balancing (carefully) on first one leg and then the other while you’re doing the washing up is a way of stretching and moving more. See how creative you can be with this!

I’m lucky in my job in that I don’t spend much time sitting down. I’m on the move all the time that I am treating each patient. I notice a big difference in my energy levels and muscle stiffness when I have an admin day at my computer, so I make sure that I keep moving – even if it’s just to get up, stretch and make a cup of tea. If you have any stiffness that won’t go away, don’t let it get worse – come and see me and we’ll talk about what treatment will help.

The Karen Ambrose practice is based in Harwell, Oxford. For further information, email Karen@karenambrose.co.uk or telephone 07734 872318.

 

Employment Law Changes for Spring 2015

Employment Law is constantly changing. To make sure you stay on the right side of the law, and do the right thing by your employees, here are some of the issues you need to know about.

Shared Parental Leave – this will allow eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed for adoption. Employed mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave and 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. If she chooses, an eligible mother can end her maternity leave early and, with her partner or the child’s father, opt for Shared Parental Leave instead of Maternity Leave. If they both meet the qualifying requirements, they will need to decide how they want to divide their Shared Parental Leave and Pay entitlement.

Antenatal Rights – from 1 October 2014, the partner of a pregnant woman has been allowed to take unpaid time off work to attend antenatal appointments with her. Partners are allowed time off for up to two antenatal appointments, capped at 6.5 hours per appointment. Confusion might arise because in some cases, the partner might not be the biological father of the child. They could be the mother’s spouse, civil partner, or partner in an enduring relationship. It could also be the parents of a child in a surrogacy arrangement.

Fit for Work – this service helps employees stay in, or return to work. It provides an occupational health assessment and general health and work advice to employees, employers and GPs. It will not replace, but will complement existing occupational health services provided by employers. There will be a phased roll out of the referral service taking place over a period of months during 2015.

Every time a change is made to Employment Law, your Staff Handbook will become out of date. You don’t need to update it every month, but you do need to be aware of the legal changes and how they affect your employees and your business. If your Handbook has not been updated for a couple of years, it’s best to get up to date information on any specific issue, before you take action.

To help keep your business up to date, book your place on our next Employment Law Update Workshop. On 21 May 2015 we’ll be spending the morning at Hennerton Golf Club in Wargrave, Berkshire, going through the changes. We’ll talk about how they will specifically impact on your business and what you need to be aware of, in order to stay on the right side of the law. Click here to book your place for just £15 +VAT.