Health assessment services won’t fulfil our OH needs – HR managers

More than four-fifths of UK HR managers think the government’s proposed health and work assessment and advisory service (HWAAS) will not fulfil their occupational health needs, research has revealed.

The scheme, due to be introduced next year, aims to provide advice and support to employers dealing with employees suffering from long-term sickness absence.

But a study conducted by PMI Health Group has found that 86 per cent are not confident that the service will fulfil their occupational health requirements. Of companies surveyed, 81 per cent already provide staff and management with access to an occupational health service.

Thirty-three per cent of HR managers polled claim to consult an occupational physician in every case of long-term absence, with a further 53 per cent doing so occasionally. In cases of short-term absence, 12 per cent always refer employees to an occupational physician and 59 per cent do so occasionally.

The research also found that when seeking advice from a GP in cases of employee absence, only 9 per cent of HRs regularly find the advice given to be useful.

PMI Health Group director Mike Blake says: “The health and work assessment and advisory service could be a step in the right direction. But the government service will only provide advice to employers when staff have been absent for more than four weeks, so will not help them in monitoring the ongoing health of their staff and developing preventative methods to reduce absence.

“Although advice from the government service could help in returning staff to work, it may struggle to provide the kind of in-depth insight that comes from a knowledge of each specific case, a relationship with HR, the working environment and an understanding of an employee’s health background. This is perhaps why a majority of HRs look to refer staff to an occupational physician in cases of both long and short-term absence.

“Advice and information from an employee’s GP is only useful in building a picture of the reasons for absence. By having permanent access to an occupational physician an employer can develop an understanding of the underlying factors affecting absence and make adjustments to help staff before ill health even becomes an issue.”