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What Is an Occupational Health Assessment?

A tuberculosis skin test may be included in an occupational health assessment.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2014
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An occupational health assessment is a medical examination performed by a doctor who determines whether or not someone is fit for work. The assessment can also include recommendations for workplace improvements which will help someone work more safely and effectively. Workplace safety as a whole can also be a concern, with some doctors traveling to workplaces to confirm that the overall workplace is healthy for employees. Some employers require their personnel to undergo occupational health assessments on a regular basis, so that they can keep an eye on employee health and safety, while others may request assessments as needed.

In a situation where an employee has been off work due to extended illness which may be occupational in nature, an occupational health assessment may be requested. Likewise, employees may be examined before returning to work after illness or injury to confirm that they are ready to come back. Employees who work in risky industries can also undergo regular assessments to confirm that they are in good health, as are employees who are exposed to hazards, or employees who appear to be struggling at work due to health problems.

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Discrimination due to medical conditions is banned by law in many regions of the world, which means that occupational health assessments cannot be used to muster ammunition to fire employees. However, they can be used to confirm that employees are healthy, and to address health issues which interfere with function in the workplace. For example, a secretary who routinely experiences back pain might receive recommendations in an occupational health assessment which will reduce the risk of damaging the back.

In the course of an assessment, employees may undergo a physical exam in addition to giving samples for analysis in a lab. The doctor may have a set of criteria to go over to confirm that someone is fit for duty, such as a negative score on a tuberculosis test, a demonstrated ability to lift a minimum weight, or good vision. If problems are observed in the occupational health assessment, the doctor discusses the problems and possible solutions with the patient, and also reports them in a written evaluation for the employer.

Certain types of health issues can exclude people from particular duties. Drivers, for example, need to have good vision to work safely. If a problem which prevents someone from working is identified in an occupational health assessment, it may be necessary for the employee to be moved to a different position, or to be retired or put on temporary because he or she can no longer work. Since the unemployment would be the result of a demonstrated disability, the employee would be eligible for insurance benefits and government benefits until the problem was corrected, or for life, depending on the nature of the disability.

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Totoro14
Post 21

My contract doesn't mention anything about having to go to an occupational health specialist if I am on long term sick. My employer has requested I go. Do I have the right to refuse?

anon932084
Post 20

I have been asked to see an OH by the company I have worked for, for four years. The grounds they have asked me to see an OH for are because I'm a type 1 diabetic. I have had five days sick in the last four years unrelated to my diabetes. I can only assume they are basing the need for me to see an OH on a shift about two years ago where a low blood sugar episode during the night knocked on to the day making me unable to stand/ move and I had to leave work early.

I have one of the lowest sickness records in the workplace and feel they are targeting me. I can't find anywhere why you need to see an OH for a medical condition such as diabetes. What are my rights in this situation?

anon348392
Post 19

I just want to know if anyone can help me. I was injured at work. I was sent to the IOD center and they said I have to go to physio because I injured my back. Is it my company's responsibility to take me or must I struggle on my own to get there?

anon337111
Post 17

Do I legally have to go to these appointments when I find them no help and pointless. I was born with a medical condition I occasionally need time off for when having intravenous antibiotics. My employers were made aware of this when they employed me five years ago. There is nothing work or occupational health can do as it's part of my condition that I will become ill with a chest infection and need intravenous antibiotics - unless they have a cure.

These appointments are always made out of my working hours and I am not paid to attend but can take the time back in lieu. (I'd rather be paid for my time. Do I need to go when I visit my own hospital every four to six weeks for check ups?

anon332640
Post 16

I had a minor knee injury at my work place that got worse over the weekend. When I went into work on Monday with a crutch, I was told I could not work unless I got cleared by a doctor from occupational health. I got the letter the same day stating that I could return to work on light duty, e.g., no stairs and limited standing. I was denied work even after presenting the doctor's note.

I am a non benefit employee who is losing at least three day's wages. What is an OCC health assessment for if the employer ignores the doctor and doesn't let you work?

anon316313
Post 15

I have been off work for four weeks now with back pain. My lower back is very stiff and I experience referred pain down my buttocks and sometimes numbness in my left foot.

My GP has said I am unfit for work as my role requires me to be very active and bending, lifting and dealing with heavy doors, to name but a few requirements, means I am unable to carry out my job.

I am also attending physiotherapy for this and have been informed by my GP that this will take weeks. I am also not sleeping well due to the back pain and have been prescribed pills for the pain and to help with sleep.

I have just been informed by letter from my employers that I am to attend an OH appointment this week. I am not sure what to expect from this and am worried in case they say I should return to work since I'm physically not fit, which my GP states as well. What if I make it worse?

anon315682
Post 14

I have a leg injury from an RTA back in September 2011 and I am still having trouble with it. My knee is very stiff and every time I bend it or stretch, my knee makes a crunching sound and it hurts like hell. It also happens with my ankle. I have been for physio and two MRI's and I am going back for a third.

I am having trouble walking up and down stairs and cycling to work, so now I have to leave a bit earlier for work and I have told my employer that I can't clean the stairwells and I am still being made to do it and what is worse, is that my supervisor is the one who is saying to me, "Well you will just have to do it until my manager says otherwise. I am not taking you of the stairwells." Is this right?

I also suffer really bad depression and what with all the pain and then being treated like that, I walked home crying my eyes out this morning because I can't cope with being treated like I am faking this and eighteen months on I am still fighting in court for a claim. What can I do?

anon298233
Post 12

My husband has been off work for several months due to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. His work asked him to sign a form saying that their occupational health could ask for a report from his GP but that is all he has heard. Nobody has contacted him to talk to him, for an assessment.

He was unwittingly given the letter that his company wrote to view by his GP when he was viewing his report, which basically reads as though it is all put on. Surely this cannot be normal. It feels very much like the company are trying to find a way to dismiss him not help him. Is there anything we can do?

anon296082
Post 11

@86047: You do not have to consent to anything and can ensure that your GP does not release anything you do not want him/her to. The release of information to your employer is in your control.

You need to ask them what they want the info for, what they are going to do with it and who will be allowed access. Only release info pertinent to what prevents you being at work safely without risk to you or anyone else.

anon296081
Post 10

As an OH provider, it can be very difficult to explain to HR and managers about the data protection act and that only the information relevant to the symptoms that prevent a return to work are required.

To the lady that sadly lost her son, she needs to address the release of his information with the psychiatrists, since they are responsible for ensuring no harm comes to their patient, especially if it is the employer asking for information.

No one in the work place needs sensitive personal data. What we need is to understand what the barriers to work are and how to remove them. If they cannot be removed, then redeployment or dismissal on the grounds of incapacity may well be the outcome.

Please also understand that it is not medics who are the core of rehabilitation, but nurses, physios, etc. All are central to adjustments to activities of daily living.

anon279307
Post 9

I have breast cancer and have been off work since February 2012 undergoing chemo. Now I will have to see an OC also. The company I work for is doing a bradford factor on time keeping and sickness. Is this classed as discrimination if I am given a high score?

anon267407
Post 8

I think what happened to this young man at the age of just twenty three is an absolute tragedy. What is the point in having laws and procedures if employers are allowed to blatantly flout them with no consequences? A clear case of total ignorance. That is the most tragic and sad situation and my heart goes out to his family.

anon266319
Post 7

I was asked to see an OH doctor to determine if I was fit to return to work after I failed a phased return. The OH doctor has told my employer that i am not fit to return to this role. However, my employer has an income protection scheme that I have been told now that I do not qualify for. I was also informed by my employer that I cannot appeal against this decision.

I have asked for the reasons why I have been denied but have not heard back yet. Any help or advice what to do next regarding this matter would help.

anon170315
Post 6

My husband quit his job because he felt extremely stressed being out on the road for months away from home. It's been a month now and he was taken to the emergency room and has a blood clot in his leg and cannot work for awhile and has been put on coumadin for life. Can he get unemployment or disability benefits even though he wasn't working when this happen. It was caused from him driving for so long. Please help me answer this.

anon163000
Post 5

I was very sorry to hear of the young man's tragic death. I would suggest that it may help in understanding what happened if they request a discussion or more information from the occupational health professional and the employer. Occupational health staff do not advise employment contract changes -- they give advice about ability to work, which employers can take or leave.

In the UK, an occupational health assessment is done by either a nurse or doctor. Typically, the employer is looking for independent, more comprehensive advice about an employee's ability to work than the GP can provide. The GP may know a lot about the medical condition but relatively little about the job and disability law.

In the UK, a GP consultation is typically 10 minutes long. In Occupational Health it will be 30-60 minutes. Confidentiality about personal medical details is essential. Occupational health will not release any information about an employee's health to the employer without their permission. The employee can check the letter before it is released to the employer and withdraw permission at any stage. A person's full medical record from their personal doctors is not usually needed.

The majority of employees find occupational health assessments very helpful for assisting them to keep working when they are able. If they are not able yet, then occupational health can guide the employer on either making the post easier for them or waiting until they recover more, or considering early retirement on medical grounds. It is for the employer to decide how long their company can wait for an employee to resume the post.

If they cannot return within a reasonable timeframe, then legally the employment contract can be terminated. The process for doing this however usually takes months and three warnings so is rarely a surprise for an affected employee. Dismissal from jobs otherwise is often illegal, especially if disability law applies. Obviously laws in other countries will vary.

anon149837
Post 4

My son had been trying to get back his full time position at work, after suffering depression and he came out of a psychiatric unit, with a diagnosis of Bipolar. However, he was given a fit for work certificate (with no conditions), they let him carry on normal shifts (five days) for two weeks, then something changed, he was told by his manager him he had to go back to weekends only. he complained and asked why and said he had done nothing wrong and only had five days off work?

He was told they needed more info about his illness and that he had to be assessed by an occupational health nurse and dr. and they told him to get needed his full medical report from his psychiatrist.

This took weeks and many phone calls, causing extreme stress and anxiety. Regrettably the psych sent his full history and private life information, which, being a vulnerable and private 23 year old, young man was very distressing.

After this, work became very difficult, and they told him that he was no longer required, but would ring him if they needed him to cover any shifts. He was devastated and committed suicide on December 7.

Were their actions correct? I thought occupational health was meant to help you back into work!

Moderator's reply: Please accept condolences and thoughts from wiseGEEK upon the tragic loss of your son. We are so sorry you are going through this terrible time.

anon141194
Post 3

i have been asked to undergo a OH assessment but my HR division has sent an application form for release of my full medical records. is this necessary? isn't the assessment more of an ability of my physical position rather than a history of my conditions?

is this a form of discrimination? i want to return to work after being on maternity leave, yet because i advised them that i am now on DLA, they have asked for this. All i need is a little adjustment to my work station, like spinal support, etc.

anon123498
Post 2

An interesting article. While just a discussion of the facts, it doesn't emphasize, at least in the UK, that employers are under an obligation to help you do your job if you're disabled.

A case in point being if a person becomes disabled while doing a job who then returns to find their employer ends up sacking them because they are no longer able to do their job without some changes. To get to this course of action, normally employers try to use an occupational health assessment to say the employee can no longer do the job and therefore should be dismissed. Which is not what occupational health is for.

anon86047
Post 1

Can an employee undergoing a occupational health assessment be forced to sign a consent form to release medical information from his or her family doctor to the medical personnel of the workplace health an safety program (WHPSP).

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