Guarded welcome for Health and Work Service 17 February 2014

The British Safety Council is cautiously welcoming the government's Health and Work Service, which will offer medical assessments and treatment plans to anyone who is sick and off work for more than four weeks.

Under the scheme, employers or GPs will be able to refer employees in England, Wales and Scotland for a work-focused occupational health assessment.

This is intended to identify the issues preventing them from returning to work and to draw up a plan recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly.

The scheme, which it is estimated will save companies up to £70m a year in reduced sickness pay and related costs, is not compulsory.

"This latest initiative is a valuable contribution in helping to address issues preventing employees returning to work," says Alex Botha, chief executive of the British Safety Council.

"[However], it is important to remember that prevention is better than cure, so the focus should remain on preventing sickness absence in the first place," he continues.

Botha makes the point that many British Safety Council members have experience on how to prevent and manage sickness absence by, for example, instigating stress management standards, wellbeing programmes and better leadership models.

"The benefits to the business of managing occupational health and wellbeing effectively can be shown in various ways, including a reduction in sickness absence per employee, reducing lost production time, savings in insurance premiums, lower labour turnover and reduced liability and reduced legal costs," he insists.

Brian Tinham

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