Publish date

18 June 2024

Developments in Occupational Health provision

What are the implications for employers of the proposed changes to the Occupational Health (OH) regime? Ben Stepney and Isabella Lumsden explain in an article for People Management.

In 2022 to 2023 over 1.8million workers reported work-related illness with nearly 50% being attributed to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.   Government statistics show that only 28% of employers provide occupational health services to employees, and large employers are nearly three times more likely to do so than Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

OH advice can assist workplaces by keeping employees safe and in work and helps employers’ manage the risks of potential exposure to liability for failing to make reasonable adjustments or inadvertently discriminating against a sick employee.

Occupational Health proposals

Following the end of the Government ‘Working Better’ consultation in November 2023, the Government has launched an OH taskforce to consult and set minimum levels of occupational health required to reduce work-place illness and job losses. The key proposals include:

  • Introducing a voluntary minimum framework for the provision of OH services
  • Exploring options for a group purchasing framework for SMEs
  • Developing a long-term occupational health workplace to build a multidisciplinary workforce.

The aim of the initiative is to tackle workplace sickness by helping people to start and stay in work, with the wider goal of boosting the economy.

The framework will likely focus on both physical and mental health in the workplace, which will task employers with the challenge of considering all types of sickness including those which, on appearance, may not always be visible. There is also a focus on the older workforce who, although may not want to leave employment, may require flexibility from employers in providing training, recruitment and flexible working processes.

In addition, the Occupational Health Innovation Fund has been set up to provide funding to develop new occupation health models, with a particular focus on improving the capacity of occupational health providers and their services. Whilst business of all sizes are impacted by both workplace sickness and the forthcoming framework, SMEs will likely benefit from the new framework, due to the increased access to OH services and available funding.

The voluntary and free occupational health framework for employers is expected to be published in summer 2024.

A compulsory framework has not been ruled out, so employers should stay alert and openminded to consulting the framework once implemented and consider any new guidance which may benefit its workforce.

Implications for employers

The impact of the framework and guidance remains to be seen over the next coming months. Following implementation of the guidance and service, it will be interesting to see how responsive and accurate it is in practice and whether there is a noticeable reduction to work-related sickness going forwards.

Employers should ensure sick policies are up to date, so that sick leave and any reasonable adjustments required to assist with employees returning to work, can be effectively managed.

Employers may wish to engage with the framework by researching what OH services are available in their area, the services they offer and the cost, as well as reviewing the value provided by previously retained OH advisers.  As well as costs, we expect that responsiveness and the quality of the advice provided will be key criteria for assessing OH providers.

Many employers take a reactive approach to OH, only calling upon OH advice when an employee is signed off sick for the long term.  Employers should consider if an investment in a subscription based service would provide better value.  Such services can include the provision of guidance on workplace health matters, medical questionnaires, training for managers and webinars for employees.  This up-front investment may result in savings if it reduces sickness absent rates in the long run.

For small employers such cots may not be viable.  It is hoped then that the taskforce and framework live up to its aim of building a healthier and happier workforce and providing access to subsidised OH services that small employers can make use of.


If you have any questions relating to this article, please get in touch with a member of our Employment team.

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