Hiring occupational health services
A Manager’s Guide
Employers have legal duties to protect the health and safety of their employees and to act fairly too. Providing a competent opinion about health means that health professionals could be hired to advise employers and managers on what to do if they feel unable to deal with complex health matters.
Although the employer is responsible for making any employment decisions – occupational health professionals will give competent advice to guide an employer through the maze of implications and legal requirements by suggesting how to manage health and strategies for protecting workers health.
This article takes you through the steps of hiring occupational health professionals whether for a ‘one of’ health assessment or a long-term relationship.
Having Your Own OH Service
It is essential that people who advise on workplace health issues such as health surveillance (a legal requirement for some businesses) are competent to do so. The level of competence depends on the tasks they have to do.
Make sure that you and your business are clear about what you expect from your occupational health service and what you have to do to make it all work. When hiring occupational health services, consider whether you need doctors, nurses or technicians; whether to employ them or to use as and when required.
To make sure that the service engaged is competent the best bet is to pick from the list of fully qualified and accredited OH services as listed on the SEQOHS website as a first choice; as they have been certificated to meet the Faculty of Occupational Medicine standards. By using services, not on the list, there is a danger of the service not up to the standard which could mean having the wrong services for your industry. Remember it is the employers’ legal duty to check their competence.
See here for the Faculty of Occupational Medicine guidelines for employers
Free National Helplines and Websites
If you need further information on Occupational Health or workplace health issues or don’t know where to start, you have the option to check on the excellent knowledge bases of the websites mentioned below or to contact one of the free Occupational Health national services on:
- England and Wales: 0800 0326235
- Scotland: telephone 0800 019 2211
OH services are expensive; you are paying for a private health service and everyone knows how expensive that is. So one of the first questions to ask is what level of Occupational Health support can the business afford? Are you aiming for the bare minimum to stay compliant or an all -singing and dancing service?
To help you answer this question, follow the simple flowchart above, and ask the three questions.
Some health checks need special qualifications or experience such as:
- bus taxi and lorry drivers
- train drivers and guards
- offshore workers
- nuclear industry
- fitness to practice (teachers and health professionals)
- high-risk health activities such as lead, asbestos, compressed air, ionising radiation
- those working with vibrating tools
If in doubt about what kind of OH service required for your company – go to the Health and Safety Executive website where you can search by sector or by health issue of typical health risks and how to minimise and control health hazards.
Remember if there is no health risk then health checks for work health-related matters should not be necessary
Health Professional’s Qualifications
To check competence and registration when hiring occupational health services, employers and the public can check the national registers for all doctors and nurses online via the respective websites:
To check on all doctors status and qualifications go to the GMC Site enter the Doctor’s name and registration number
To check on all nurses status and skills go to NMC Site and enter the Nurses name and registration number
10 steps for Hiring Occupational Health services
- Ask other organisations which OH services they use – there is nothing better than a personal recommendation or consider sharing services.
- Ask for references from any potential OH service or person and ask for access to their website and see their promotional leaflets. Look at their marketing literature which explains what the OH service does – if you understand their messages, the chances are they are mindful of their customers.
- Ask for three quotes by setting out your company requirements for an occupational health assessment by telephone or email with your three chosen candidates or services.
- Set out any special arrangements that are relevant to your business, such as, if you have shift personnel, night staff, or home workers you want included in any health promotion campaigns.
- Ask the OH service about specific issues such as availability of night workers, what happens if the service cancels a clinic on site, is there a dedicated contact for the contract, review dates, suggestions for ways to improve the health of your workforce. Do not be afraid to ask for cost reduction strategies such as price matching or discounts for a longer term contract etc. (5 years instead of 3 years).
- Agree on the logistics of the health clinics, testing and appointment system to see your workers e.g. time, place, disability access if applicable, any special considerations. Also agree payment arrangements contact details, what happens if, expectations; also any particular requirements of the occupational health service such as meeting on sites, whether private rooms are required, or in the case of work stress – employees may ask to meet away from work.
- Set up a service level agreement if possible setting out all your requirements.
- Agree on long-term arrangements and regular meetings/telephone calls to check services.
- Complaints rules – who should you contact if things start to go wrong
- Have a nominated person, who understands the contract, health risk assessment and has some authority your organisation to run the contract in the future. Without this, your occupational health service and health of employees may suffer.
MUST DO STEPS before you start a new Occupational Health Service
- Set up training programmes for managers – OH services, in my opinion, never work unless there are real cooperation and understanding of the occupational health role.
- Train supervisory staff. Explain the function of the service and take them through the process of filling in a referral form. Ask the new OH service to provide a sample to see or go to blank template report that you can download here. Be clear on the types of questions that you want occupational health to answer.
- Tell employees about the new service and the benefits. Many employees view an appointment with occupational health as a disciplinary measure.
How Much will I be charged for OH Work?
The current daily rate (June 2013) for a professional contracted OH worker would is estimated as:
- £150 a day for an OH technician
- £300 day for a nurse (without the OH qualification/previous experience)
- £450 a day on average for a qualified/experienced OH nurse advisor
- Up to £3000 a day for a senior fully qualified OH Doctor
- For an in-house service with one OH qualified nurse practitioner be ready to pay a salary in the range of £35 – 40K per annum (plus employment costs and ongoing training) depending on site and experience
- Generally, OH Doctors work on a part-time basis to support the OH specialist nurses unless the organisation is large or has high-risk health issues to deal with such as radiation or asbestos.
- Specialist, niche and expert providers could charge more in any sector
- Most OH providers have a different price range depending on whether the employee is seen on the client site, a mobile unit or at the provider’s clinic.
- Consider also travel time and expenses, follow-ups, parking, etc. that is often in addition to stated rates
Where in the UK are you working? Prices vary enormously across the country with London being the most expensive area. Specialist health assessments can cost more so it is a good idea to agree on a price as part of the contract negotiations, e.g., hand-arm vibration screening.
The Size of Company
How big is the OH business? Larger companies have higher overhead costs which are passed on to you. Individual OH advisers or sole traders can afford to charge less as there are no premises or minimal administrative expenses to pass on to the purchaser.
#Top Tip – Single or small OH companies can undercut their bigger rivals due to less overhead costs.
Priced by Time or Item
Consider whether to ask for the expense of a health check, such as an LGV driver medical for £150 or a daily rate. Often the daily or half day rate is more economical but that means all the employees with appointments must attend
For some contracts an annual retainer is useful. Retainers guarantee occupational health service on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis or if emergency OH advice needed. The benefit to the client is that there are preferential treatment and an agreed timescale to respond to situations.
Service Level Agreements
Talk about your expectations from a service in precontract meetings. Also, involve workers or representatives in any discussions too.
Once all the terms of employment are agreed, draft the service level agreement (SLA) as a record of the instructions. The contract will also contain agreed targets that your new OH service promises to meet e.g. ‘I will send a report back to management within five working days after a display screen equipment assessment’.
Follow these steps and guidance here and you will be ready to tackle the hiring of an occupational health service. Once started, use their ability for protecting and enhancing the working lives of your employees.
Further Information and Advice
- To download free templates to help hire an occupational health service click here
- Occupational health, what is it? Video
- How Occupational Health services can help a manager
- High levels of absence? Click here for more information on how to improve attendance
 Adapted from my e-book How to Start a Healthy Business: An Insider’s Guide to Occupational Health Success,
Updated Nov 2018