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Accessing occupational health

Understand what occupational health is and how you can access it for yourself or your team.


Occupational health is a branch of medicine that focuses on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace. Occupational Health Services (OHS) do not provide medical diagnoses or prescribe medication to treat identified health conditions in the way that people's own medical advisers do. Instead, they work with employers and employees to understand how existing health issues and disabilities might impact on a person's ability to carry out their work in order to identify ways they can support employees to thrive at work.

They also provide advice on workplace adjustments and practices to promote good health.

There are four main elements that make up the occupational health provision at the University:

  • post recruitment health information

  • health and wellbeing assessments

  • health surveillance

  • health and wellbeing and specialist medical advice

The OHS is bound by medical confidentiality rules. They will not release any information to the University or anyone else without first gaining the informed consent of the individual. In most cases, the University does not require any medical details in order to support employees. OHS is a confidential service to help ensure the University considers additional control measures where and when required.

The medical professionals work to standards set by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the General Medical Council. Both they and the University's Health, Safety and Environment service work in accordance with workplace health and safety guidance from the Health & Safety Executive.  

Post-recruitment health information

Once someone has been offered a job at the University they are asked to complete a simple health questionnaire. This may then trigger a second more in-depth questionnaire which is passed directly by the new employee to the medical OHS based at the Royal United Hospital (RUH).

On receipt of the second questionnaire, the OHS will phone the employee to discuss how any identified health issues or disabilities might have an adverse affect on their ability to carry out their new job. In many cases, this conversation will be all that is required to identify whether an employee might need any support at work.

If the OHS identify a need for a further face-to-face follow up, they will arrange for the new employee to attend an appointment with an appropriately qualified Occupational Health professional (either a specialist OH Nurse or Doctor) at the RUH.

Once an employee has provided consent, the OHS will then advise the University on any adjustments or supports that they recommend should be considered to support the new employee to take up their post. Recommendations are provided to the University's Human Resources Department and they will then work with the recruiting manager to consider and implement, as appropriate, the advice given by the OHS.

Health and wellbeing assessments

These are bespoke assessments that are used to identify activities, roles or members of staff which may be susceptible to specific occupational hazards and to identify ways of reducing identified significant risks to a tolerable level. Assessments will consider all aspects of a role in order to determine suitable controls and actions to help reduce risk and maintain good health. Controls could include changes to workstations and job design or could include periodic health surveillance. Some occupational health assessments are carried out in-house by Safety, Health and Employee Wellbeing (SHEW) and some are referred to the OHS.

Requests for assessments and support should be made through your normal HR contact. They will then liaise, as necessary, with SHEW to determine which assessment route to follow.

Health surveillance

Occupational health surveillance is a system of ongoing health checks for the early detection of specific ill health effects arising from work. The checks made can vary from enquiries made about symptoms using questionnaires, to medical tests performed by a health professional.

The University has a specific standard in place for providing occupational health surveillance.

Health and Wellbeing and specialist medical advice

The University is keen to support employees who either develop or are diagnosed with health conditions or disabilities during the course of their employment. The need for support may be identified as a result of periods of sickness absence, or where employees or their line manager identify that the employee is having issues with performing some or all aspects of their role.

SHEW can provide generalist advice and support on a number of general health and wellbeing issues. Members of staff can contact SHEW direct for an informal discussion (although for some issues they may be advised of the need to speak to their line manager so that referral to a medical professional can be made). 

Where a need for more specialist medical advice is identified, this will be provided through the OHS. Referrals for this support are usually made through HR. They will work with the line manager and employee to identify how a condition or disability is impacting an employee's ability to attend or carry out their work. On occasion, advice may also be sought from SHEW. The focus of these discussions is on impacts on ability to work; employees do not need to disclose any personal medical details (such as identifying any diagnosed medical condition).

Provided information will be used to put together a referral to OHS. Referrals will only made once the employee specifically consents to OHS being contacted. All appointments should take place within ten days of a referral being made − unless the employee wishes to delay an appointment.

Appointments are held at the Occupational Health Unit at RUH. Management referrals are subject to medical confidentiality rules and information will only be provided to the University once the employee has provided consent. Employees may choose to withhold all or any information contained within the advice provided by the OHS. Employees may also ask the OHS to re-word reports to ensure these reflect the conversations had. However, the OHS will not change the wording of any medical advice where this affects the meaning of the advice given.

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