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03 February 1998

Occupational health services seen as "management tool"
Many occupational health services are seen as "a management tool" by employees because of their lack of accountability to their representatives, according to the results of a survey of trade union representatives for the negotiators' magazine, Bargaining Report.

The survey examined the provision of occupational health services in workplaces, including the numbers and role of occupational health and safety staff and the extent to which they are independent of the employer.

It found that only a third of the union representatives in the survey felt that occupational health and safety staff acted mainly independently from management.

Only a third again indicated that occupational health and safety staff were accountable to joint employer/union bodies. Just 12% said that the appointment or dismissal of occupational health and safety staff was subject to joint agreement between employers and unions. And less than a third of union representatives were consulted about what services are provided by the occupational health department.

In more than a third of workplaces in the survey, reports by occupational health and safety staff were not made available to the union or safety representative.

The survey also found that access to occupational health advice is lacking in small companies. While 59% of workplaces in the survey had an in-house occupational health department, this decreased to 20% of companies with less than 50 employees. While the use of occupational health services is not compulsory, employers are required to have access to competent help in applying health and safety law.

The results confirm the TUC assertion that the provision of adequate occupational health services is still limited, on the whole, to major companies and that in small firms, even part-time provision tends to be a rarity.

And it found that only a minority of occupational health services appear to place primary emphasis on prevention. Although the survey found that occupational health departments undertake a wide range of functions, sickness absence monitoring was the main activity of nearly a quarter of occupational health departments in the survey, compared with only 5% of workplaces where the main activity of the occupational health department was carrying out risk assessments and advising on preventative measures.

Notes to editors

The survey is based on questionnaire returns from trade union representatives in nearly 240 workplaces across a range of industry and service sectors, both public and private. The unions participating in the survey were public services union Unison, general union T&G, the fire brigades' union FBU, civil service union IPMS and printworkers' union GPMU. The tax and finance union PTC also provided information from its head office.
For further information contact Andrea Oates on 0171 902 9826.
Bargaining Report is published 11 times a year by the Labour Research Department and is available on subscription - telephone 0171-928 3649 for details. LRD is a trade union-backed research organisation with over 95% of the TUC membership affiliated to it.

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