Using assessment tools in Occupational Health consultations

By Janet O'Neill

Published 20 January 2024

The role of Occupational Health (OH) in managing sickness absence or attendance management is advocated by many, e.g. CIPD, NICE, HSE, and ACAS.

OH utilises skilled history-taking, assessment, research, and assessment tools to provide a justified and evidence-based opinion.

As a profession, we understand that being at work is better for health and wellbeing than being out of work. We advise employers and employees on fitness for work and the support needed to facilitate retention in work. With sickness absence the highest it has ever been (Personnel Today 2023), OH will be needed more so than ever.

An employer commonly refers an individual to OH for concerns about the person’s health at work, presenteeism, or short-term or long-term absence. The referral contains several questions posed to the clinician. This is to enable a better understanding of the needs of that individual and their health status relating to work, facilitating informed decision-making by managers. It is well known that the line manager is the most significant person in the individual’s working life and has the most influence (NICE). Subsequently, by advising the line manager, OH potentially supports the individual both directly and indirectly. Direct support and added value are the clinical assessment and advice we provide to the employee, which reflects well on the employer.

During the OH appointment, the clinician assesses the individual clinically, using the biopsychosocial model, to obtain health information matched to work. The OH clinician then uses critical thinking and decision-making skills to provide professional and credible clinical advice to the employer. A quality, justified, and evidence-based outcome report is essential for a productive partnership between all parties.

This would not be possible without an effective assessment of the individual’s functional capability matched to work. Assessing functional capability requires an objective but empathetic assessment that is evidence-based. This evidence comes from research, skilled discussion, questioning, and the use of evidence-based tools.

The use of proven health assessment tools allows for information to be collected systematically. They assist critical thinking, recognising patterns, and evaluating functional ability. This is particularly important when there are safety-critical elements of work; risks of work on health and health on work, conflict in the workplace; domestic concerns, and any potential impact on workability including finances.

Validated or proven assessment tools, of which there are many, have been developed through research and are universally accepted as systematic measures of a particular health concern. Culture must be considered when utilising a tool. Reliance on a tool alone will not lead to adequate advice and decision-making but can make a significant contribution.

If you would like to read more about which tools are utilised in OH and why, read here The use of assessment tools in occupational health (ioh.org.uk)

Janet O’Neill | LinkedIn

(RN, Dip OH, MSc) iOH board member, Head of PAM Academy, Deputy Head of the National School of OH

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