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What is Occupational Health?

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Mastering Occupational Health: Deciphering Robust vs. Weak Strategies and Championing Holistic Wellness

As of July 2023, the UK government is actively engaging in a consultation on "Tax Incentives for Occupational Health."

In an era where the well-being of employees takes centre stage, the significance of occupational health has never been more paramount. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a pivotal role in shaping the economy and society at large. The welfare of their employees directly impacts their success and the overall well-being of their business and the wider UK workforce.

This blog looks to provide a clear definition to occupational health, offering a deeper understanding of the impact of poor strategy to both employee and employer before discussing about what a strong OH strategy would include. Moreover, it advocates for the inclusion of a more preventative, holistic approach to Occupational Health, exploring initiatives such as Staff Well-being Days & Wellness Retreats as an integral facet in the pursuit of a more comprehensive solution in improving occupational health in the UK.

So what do we mean by Occupational Health, and why is it so important to promote it within your business and people strategy?


What is Occupational Health?

Occupational Health refers to a set of services and practices aimed at creating a healthy and supportive work environment, preventing health issues, and assisting employees with health conditions. It's like a toolkit that helps both workers and employers thrive together.

occupational health therapist

Supportive Work Environment

The UK government defines Occupational Health as a collection of tools to make workplaces healthier. Think of it as a way to make sure everyone can do their jobs without being unwell. It includes helping people who have disabilities or health problems so they can do their best at work.

Helping Employees Thrive

Occupational Health is like a helper for businesses. It steps in when things aren't going well. For example, if someone is feeling physically or mentally not okay, Occupational Health can step in to offer guidance and support.

Back to Work Smoothly

When someone has been away from work because they were sick, Occupational Health can help them come back smoothly. It's like having a friend who helps you get back into the swing of things after being away for a while.

Less Sick Leave

By using Occupational Health, businesses can try to reduce how often people are away from work because they're sick. This is good for both the workers and the business itself.

mental health safety kit

Safety Matters

Workplaces need to be safe and secure. Occupational Health plays a big role in making sure that the rules about health and safety are followed. This includes making sure that things like bullying and stress don't harm people's mental health.

Mental Health is Key

Mental health is a big part of Occupational Health. A study by Future Care Capital found that many people who can't work because they're sick have problems with their mental health. This shows how important it is to take care of how people feel at work.

The Bigger Picture

Occupational Health isn't just about doctors and medicine. It's a whole package deal. It's about making sure employees feel good physically and mentally. This means thinking about things like how work affects life outside the job, what you eat, how you stay active, and even mindfulness.

Well-being for Success

As businesses get smarter about how well-being connects to success, they're seeing that Occupational Health isn't just about fixing problems. It's about creating a place where everyone can do well. When employees are happy and healthy, they work better and feel better about their jobs.

Consequences of a Poor Occupational Health Strategy

Poor occupational health strategy can have catastrophic effects not just on the individual, but also the financial and operational health of the business itself.

Impact of Poor Occupational Health Strategy on the Individual

Occupational health plays a vital role in ensuring a thriving workforce. It's widely acknowledged by the UK government that sustained economic growth and improved living standards are closely linked to active labour market participation and increased productivity (UK Government 2023).

However, the United Kingdom is currently grappling with challenges that cast a shadow over occupational health, impacting both workforce participation and productivity. Issues like long working hours, inadequate health and safety measures, and stress-related problems have led to a concerning rise in economic inactivity due to poor health. Over the last decade, the number of economically inactive individuals due to long-term sickness has grown by 23%, affecting around 2.6 million people (UK Government 2023).

Over the last decade, the number of economically inactive individuals due to long-term sickness has grown by 23%, affecting around 2.6 million people (UK Government 2023).

The impact of a less-than-optimal occupational health strategy is felt both physically and emotionally.

Physical Impact:

  1. Musculoskeletal Disorders: According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common work-related illness, affecting 1.6 million workers in 2019/20. Poor ergonomics, repetitive tasks, and inadequate workstation setups contribute to these disorders, leading to discomfort, pain, and reduced productivity. For instance, office workers who spend prolonged hours at poorly designed computer setups can develop conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or back pain.

  2. Respiratory Ailments: Workers exposed to harmful substances or poor air quality on the job are at risk of developing respiratory issues. In the construction industry, for instance, employees exposed to dust and hazardous fumes are susceptible to respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Emotional Impact:

  1. Stress and Mental Health: Work-related stress is a significant concern. According to the HSE, in 2021/22, 914,000 workers in the UK reported work-related stress at a level that resulted in them taking time off work. Persistent stress can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, affecting not only the individual but also their overall job performance and well-being.

  2. Burnout: Burnout is increasingly recognized as a consequence of poor occupational health. A study by Deloitte found that in 2020, around 77% of UK employees experienced burnout at some point, with long working hours and high job demands being key contributors. Burnout reduces productivity, increases absenteeism, and can lead to turnover.

If this isn't enough for businesses to stand up and notice the importance of strong occupational health - then what of the operational and financial impacts poor strategy can have on the business itself?

Impact of Poor Occupational Health Strategy on Businesses

Economic inactivity not only negatively impacts individuals but also UK employers. Recent research from Deloitte (2022) highlights the financial implications of poor mental health, revealing that the cost to employers has increased to up to £56 billion in 2020-21 compared to £45 billion in 2019.

"...Financial implications of poor mental health.... cost to employers has increased to up to £56 billion in 2020-21 compared to £45 billion in 2019."

Poor occupational health can have significant financial implications for a business. While the exact impacts may vary depending on the specific circumstances and industry, we have pulled together a further list of potential financial consequences that a business might face due to poor occupational health, as driven from our conversations with business leaders across the board:

Healthcare Costs: A decline in employee health directly impacts a company's healthcare expenses. Research by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) found that poor employee health costs employers in the United States around $530 billion annually in lost productivity and increased healthcare expenses. This includes costs related to medical treatments, doctor visits, hospital stays, and prescription medications.

Absenteeism: According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), UK organizations lose an average of 6.3 days per employee each year due to absenteeism. Poor occupational health contributes to these absenteeism rates, causing substantial disruptions in workflow and productivity.

"UK organizations lose an average of 6.3 days per employee each year due to absenteeism"

Presenteeism / Productivity Issues: The Harvard Business Review reports that presenteeism can cost employers up to three times more than absenteeism. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that presenteeism leads to a productivity loss of about 10-25% due to employees working while not feeling well.

Employee Turnover: The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates that the cost of replacing an employee can be as high as 50-60% of their annual salary. Poor occupational health leading to dissatisfaction and turnover exacerbates these costs.

Legal and Regulatory Compliance: In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports that there were over 60,000 reported cases of work-related ill health in 2021/22, leading to substantial legal and regulatory implications for businesses.

Reputation and Brand Image: A survey conducted by Edelman revealed that 70% of consumers avoid buying from companies with poor reputations. This highlights the significant impact poor occupational health practices can have on a company's reputation and subsequent customer trust.

70% of consumers avoid buying from companies with poor reputations

Insurance Premiums: Businesses with poor occupational health records can face increased insurance premiums. According to a report by Aon, workplace injuries and illnesses can raise workers' compensation costs by an average of 15-30%.

Operational Disruptions: Research by the National Safety Council (NSC) found that work-related injuries and illnesses cost employers in the United States over $167 billion in direct and indirect costs. This includes disruptions to operations due to employee absences, investigations, and safety-related shutdowns.

As we can see, poor occupational health can have a massive impact not just on the employee but also the operational and financial health of the business and it is clear that it is in every company's best interest to prioritize and invest in maintaining a healthy and safe work environment for its employees.

Ensuring a Strong Occupational Health Strategy

To build a robust Occupational Health strategy for your business, it's crucial to understand the government's fiscal policies that encourage such initiatives.

Current Fiscal Incentives for Occupational Health

The UK government actively supports Occupational Health through various tax incentives. These incentives aim to make it easier for businesses to promote employee well-being. Here are some of the current incentives:

  1. Recommended Medical Treatment: Employers can cover the cost of medical treatments to help employees get back to work.

  2. Annual Health Screening: Businesses can financially support employees' annual health screenings and check-ups.

  3. Welfare Counselling: Access to welfare counselling is provided to support employees' mental and emotional well-being.

  4. Eye Tests and Eyewear: Employers can assist employees by covering the expenses of eye tests and corrective eyewear.

These incentives are designed to encourage businesses to invest in their employees' health and well-being, fostering a healthier and more productive workforce.

Proposed Changes and Expansion

As of July 2023, the UK government is actively reviewing and proposing changes to these fiscal incentives. The consultation aims to expand the scope of these incentives to further support Occupational Health. Here are the proposed changes:

  1. Health Screenings and Check-ups: Employees will be able to undergo health screenings and medical check-ups, with defined limits.

  2. Reducing Absenteeism: The scope will include treatments that aim to reduce absenteeism and boost employee performance, including preventive measures.

  3. Flu Vaccinations: Employees can be reimbursed for flu vaccinations that they initially paid for.

These proposed changes indicate the government's intention to create a more comprehensive approach to Occupational Health.

For more information on the specifics of these fiscal incentives and the government's proposal, you can visit the official consultation page: Tax Incentives for Occupational Health Consultation.

By understanding and utilising these fiscal incentives, your business can proactively contribute to a healthier, happier, and more engaged workforce.

Is This Enough?

While the current and proposed fiscal incentives are commendable, it's important to note that they primarily address reactive health measures. A holistic Occupational Health strategy goes beyond this, emphasizing proactive and comprehensive well-being efforts. It includes promoting mental and emotional health, encouraging healthier lifestyles, and fostering a work environment that prioritises long-term employee well-being.

Embracing a Holistic Vision

A Comprehensive Approach: Beyond Traditional Medicine

Embracing a holistic vision means using a wide range of proactive methods that go beyond just medicine. These methods cover various aspects of well-being, from finding mental balance and reducing stress to maintaining a good work-life balance, eating healthily, staying active, and practicing mindfulness. By combining these different approaches, businesses can create a culture that not only supports long-term well-being but also boosts productivity and overall employee happiness.

Digging Deeper: The Connection Between Well-being

Taking a holistic approach is like building a strong foundation for a house. Just as a solid base supports a tall building, focusing on both physical and mental well-being sets the stage for a resilient and successful workforce.

The Power of Prevention

A Key Focus: Preventive Measures

In a holistic framework, prevention becomes a primary focus. By addressing potential health challenges proactively through education, active involvement, and consistent support, businesses can prevent health problems before they arise. This proactive approach not only leads to lower healthcare costs but also creates an environment where employees thrive both personally and professionally.

A Call to Action for UK Employers

Highlighting Missed Opportunities: Overlooked Policies

It's important to note that the current expansion of tax incentives leaves out certain policies. These policies include private medical insurance, non-clinical treatments like wellness retreats and gym memberships, paying in-house occupational health staff, consultancy costs for creating an occupational health strategy, expenses related to employees' families, and costs for non-employee individuals. Whilst we agree somewhat that the expansion of the current scope to include some of these measures would not provide value for money for the taxpayer, we would argue that some of these are exactly what is needed in order to promote a more holistic and preventative approach by UK businesses to occupational health.

Considering these points, there's a suggestion to revisit the current policy exclusions. UK employers are encouraged to think about these ideas during the ongoing consultation. By expanding the range of tax incentives to include more focused measures, businesses can more effectively address the current challenges in UK occupational health. A holistic approach should encompass a variety of strategies and also incorporate these focused, preventive measures to truly enhance the well-being and productivity of the workforce.

teamwork group laughing

Together; Nurturing a Thriving Environment Across UK Business

Imagining a Flourishing Workplace: Thriving Together

Imagine a workplace where employees don't just get by – they flourish. Holistic health initiatives act as a catalyst, propelling individuals towards excellence and creating a ripple effect that spreads throughout the entire organisation. This thriving environment lays the groundwork for increased innovation, enhanced collaboration, and steadfast commitment.

Charting a Path of Holistic and Preventive Excellence

By steering towards a holistic and preventive approach, businesses can lead the way in creating a vibrant and sustainable work environment. By investing in the well-being of their workforce, companies can tap into a wellspring of potential, reaping rewards that go beyond mere financial gains, enriching lives and elevating the very essence of work.


If you want to invest more in your people, reimagine your people strategy to benefit the future of your team and business, then get in contact at or fill out the quick form below:

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