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Purpose of an occupational health assessment

What is the purpose of an occupational health assessment?

If you have been asked to undergo an occupational health assessment and you aren’t familiar with the process, it can feel a little daunting. But don’t be afraid, an occupational health assessment is a helpful and supportive process for both you and your employer.

An occupational health assessment, as the name suggests, is an assessment of an employee’s health in relation to their job. Typically this will be with a medical professional such as a nurse, physiotherapist or doctor with additional qualifications in occupational health.

The occupational health specialist will have a discussion with you about all the health factors that are relevant at the time, to get an understanding of your current situation, job role and medical history. Using this information, along with any information they have received from your employer, they will write an occupational health report summarising any health concerns your employer should be aware of and providing any advice for how they may be able to help or better manage you.

More often than not, the occupational health report will address the following factors:

Fitness for work

Primarily employers will be looking for advice from the occupational health provider about whether you are currently fit for work, and if not when a recovery can be expected.

You may have been to the GP to obtain a fit note (previously referred to as a sick note) in the past and given this to your employer as proof of absence. This fit note is advice from the GP to your employer providing his/her opinion regarding your current ability to work. It is not binding on either employer or employee, and it does not mean that you should remain off until the end of your fit note if you feel well enough to do some work. You will be able to return to work before you are 100% fit.

The purpose of an occupational health assessment is similar, but will be based on a more detailed discussion around health background, your social situation and your work situation from a more specialist practitioner.

For that reason, the advice on fitness for work from an occupational health assessment will generally be more detailed, and more considered, and is the advice that you and your employer should follow when considering whether to attend work or not. You can see more information about the difference between a fit note and an occupational health assessment here.

Reasonable adjustments

An occupational health assessment is addressed to your employer, because it will detail advice of any adjustments, accommodations or adaptations that your employer may be able to make in order to support you in your role.

This is a particularly significant benefit to an employer because GP fit notes may advise that you are unfit for work, or require adjustments. However the GP will not be able to advise what adjustments may be required in order to accommodate you back into work.

An occupational health report will. Occupational health practitioners are trained in equality and employment law, and will consider the interests of both the employer and employee to provide more detailed advice around what work can or can’t be done at the current time, and what adjustments may be put in place to be able to support you more in the workplace.

Considering social context

When you visit a GP, they will only issue fit notes for medical reasons, not social reasons. However this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are finding it easy to attend work, and there may be other variables that you need your employer to be aware of. For example you may be the carer for an unwell relative, you may be experiencing marital issues or you may have financial concerns.  

For an employer who has limited knowledge of this, and has not been presented with a fit note because your GP hasn’t been able to sign you as medically unfit for work, an occupational health report will consider more factors and relay more detailed information wherever appropriate. Whilst this doesn’t mean that every single aspect of your personal life will be documented in a report, it does mean that a wider context surrounding your current ability to work will be considered and documented for your employer, so that they can support you better (see section above on reasonable adjustments).

For this reason amongst others, being referred for an occupational health assessment is a supportive process, and demonstrates that your employer cares about your welfare and is looking for ways to support you wherever possible.

Answering specific medical questions

Unlike visiting your GP, when you are referred to occupational your employer will have also had some input too. This is usually via a ‘management referral form’ or ‘occupational health referral form’. This provides them the opportunity to explain more about the expectations of your job role, the relevant background as understood by them, and to ask specific questions that they may need help with.

By asking questions to an occupational health company, the employer may be able to support you better and manage your absence more effectively. For instance, if the absence is likely to be for a long time, they may wish to arrange cover for you.

Some typical questions that an employer may ask include whether or not you are covered by the Equality Act (2010), whether you are currently fit for work, when you may be likely to be fit for work, whether you are currently able to attend management meetings, whether anything can be done to support you during or after your absence, whether the problem is likely to recur or whether you are currently receiving appropriate treatment.

Further reading

Whenever you are referred for an occupational health assessment you will be asked to complete some form of physical or online consent form. This will have more information about what you can expect from the process, so be sure to read this carefully before you proceed.

Here is a little more reading that you may find interesting:

Reasonable adjustments and the Equality Act.

Understanding the difference between a GP and occupational health in assessing fitness for work.

What amendments can be requested to your report?

Acas: Using occupational health at work. CIPD: Occupational health factsheets.