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Do small businesses have a need for occupational health?

The average number of days taken off sick by employees fell during 2012 to 6 days. This is the equivalent to firms losing 2.8% of working time – against 3.6% the previous year.

I reported last year on how ‘presenteesim’ could pose more of a risk to businesses than absenteeism. Presenteeism is the term given to employees turning up for work when they are not well. As a result, loss of productivity and bad company representation can occur. If an employee is unwell they may act in a way that they may not normally act, or simply may not be fully functional. Mistakes can be made and time can be wasted – all of which incurs cost to the company.

One way to effectively manage sickness in an organisation is through “Occupational Health”. Occupational health (OH) focuses on the relationship between health and work. For example, for some people a health issue may affect their ability to work or to undertake the kind of work that they ordinarily do. In other cases, the work itself might have the potential to affect employees’ health. Either situation could potentially result in reduced productivity.
Many larger organisations have their own, in-house, OH Department. However, whilst the same health risks and issues are prevalent in smaller firms, they cannot afford the luxury of access to OH. Over the past two years, Turnstone HR has dealt with three health-related issues for SME clients. Fortunately, common sense prevailed in two of these without the need to call in costly OH consultants; in the third, the employee left the company to pursue a different type of work.

In the present economic climate, companies can ill-afford unnecessary additional costs but the cost of both absenteeism and presenteeism could actually outweigh paying for OH support where this is felt necessary. Of course, there is always a balance but all businesses, whatever their size, need to be aware of the factors involved and should be afforded the option of OH advice and support.

With this in mind, there is the possibility of OH support becoming available and affordable to SMEs. With the forthcoming change from Primary Care Trusts to Care Commissioning Groups (CCGs) I am involved in the early stages of discussions that could result in the formation of a CCG-led OH function that will be available to small businesses. This would be a centrally based function within the Furness area that will provide all the OH advice and support necessary enabling small business to manage their OH issues confidentially, effectively and, more importantly, on a cost-effective basis.

In the meantime, employers should ensure that they effectively manage absenteeism and presenteeism and there are a variety of different approaches that can be adopted, from utilising more scientific methods, such as the Bradford Factor, to simply being the caring, sharing ‘go home and get yourself well’ employer.
There will be a seminar on OH for small businesses early in the New Year – keep watch in the Evening Mail for further details.

For further information and advice on all areas of Absence Management and how this can benefit your organisation, contact Turnstone HR on or call 01229 615280 to speak to one of our HR Advisors.

“There is evidence to suggest that good HR practice and people management in SMEs are key factors in strong business performance and can lead to increased productivity.”

- CIPD people Skills Project 2017


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