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UK Focuses on Occupational Health


Big ben and the houses of parliament in london.

​As more employees return to the office, the U.K. government is focusing on improving occupational health to ensure workplaces are healthy. 

The U.K. government has launched two consultations meant to be read in conjunction with one another, along with a third to be read separately, to address occupational health.

"The new consultation is good news for both employers and employees as it is going to shine a spotlight on return-to-work sickness policies and processes," said Helen Coombes, an attorney with Lewis Silkin LLP in Cardiff, Wales. "Long-term sickness is now the most common reason given by working-age people for economic inactivity. It is a growing problem."

New Legal Duty Proposed

The main two consultations, together called "Occupational Health: Working Better" and meant to be read in conjunction, complement each other. The first consultation focuses on occupational health provisions, steps that can be taken and examples of other places that have implemented successful occupational health services. Accreditation could help, as could making sure that there is a standardized baseline for the occupational health services provided.

"One of the ideas in the consultation is a new legal duty to provide access to occupational health after a certain event, such as a period of sickness absence. This would force a greater focus on how employers manage sickness absence and the involvement of expert advice on what, if any, adjustments are necessary to help employees back to work," Coombes said. "If the government introduces their idea for a national health-at-work standard along with a baseline for quality occupational health provision for all employees, this may improve the overall quality of employer experience."

The second consultation focuses on taxes and financial incentives. This consultation gives weight to expanding the benefit-in-kind exemption, so that various treatments would fall within that exemption.

The third consultation, the Disability Action Plan consultation, addresses how disability intersects with occupational health.

Potential Problems

With the first two consultations, potential problems present themselves along with the proposed solutions.

"The [benefit-in-kind] exemption wouldn't cover things like the wages of occupational health staff consulting costs, so there will remain costs," said Emma Carter, a lawyer with Dentons in Milton Keynes, England. There are also questions about how occupational health solutions would look with companies of varying sizes, and how small and medium-size businesses can achieve the same baseline as large companies. 

Why Focus on Occupational Health Now?

Nonetheless, focusing on occupational health now could be beneficial long term. Generally, more job applicants are inquiring in the recruitment phase about well-being and what an employer is able to provide in terms of occupational health. Plus, it behooves employers to improve attendance at work by improving the health of the workforce overall.

Because these are consultations, they are not solutions and do not take care of occupational health services on their own. Instead, they are initial steps toward the overall improvement of occupational health services in the U.K.

Katie Nadworny is a freelance writer in Istanbul. 

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