17 December 2012

Preventing an outbreak of Norovirus at work

You may have heard reports of increasing numbers of people contracting Norovirus in the news. Also known as ‘Winter vomiting’, more than 750,000 people in the UK could be affected the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has said.
The highly contagious bug is known to spread very quickly between those living or working in close proximity. 
The Health Protection Agency figures estimate that some 68,000 people have caught it in the last week for which data is currently available, ending Sunday December 2. It means that, at this stage in the season, this winter’s outbreak is 72 per cent bigger than last winter’s. 
That makes it the biggest early winter outbreak for at least five years and the “bulk” of cases usually came after Christmas. 
The symptoms
Symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Some people may have a temperature, headache and stomach cramps.The illness usually resolves in one or two days and there are no long-term effects. However, if it were to spread across a workforce it could cause substantial disruption. 
What steps can you take to best inform your staff and protect against an outbreak spreading at work?
Norovirus is highly contagious and can be transmitted by contact with an infected person, by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, or by consuming contaminated food or water.
Reducing the chances of contracting norovirus is, like other infections, largely down to good hygiene. Regular washing of hands, especially after toileting and being careful around food are always a common sense approach and particularly important now.
This helpful NHS link contains an explanation about the causes, symptoms and tips on how to minimise the risk of contracting norovirus.
Please contact Taylor-Mohrs Occupational Health Services on 0117 906 4227 if you need any more information.

14 December 2012

Tips for preventing workplace flu

Illnesses such as colds and flu are the main causes of winter absence. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 95% of staff give this as a cause of their sick leave.

This often leaves businesses under resourced, staff over stretched and increases the risks of mistakes, accidents and loss of productivity.

Although the threat of flu cannot be completely eliminated, by following some simple steps it is possible to reduce the risk and minimise the spread of germs in the workplace.

We hope these workplace flu prevention tips will help:
  • Offer a flu vaccination to those members of staff not entitled to it on the NHS
  • Raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of flu, e.g. cough, sore throat, headache, runny nose, limb or joint pain, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • Promote an environment where employees who feel unwell with flu type symptoms can go home and stay at home until recovered
  • Consider home working if this is practical for certain staff and consider alternatives to meetings e.g. tele conferences/video conferences/Skype etc
  • Within the workplace promote a habit of ‘respiratory etiquette’ - i.e. not sneezing or coughing without using a tissue then dispose of tissues immediately and wash hands
  • Provide a good supply of clean hand washing facilities, soap and clean disposable towels or hand dryers
  • Offer waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizers to use regularly when hand washing is not possible, and especially to those who spend time on the road
  • Workstation cleaning; encourage employees to clean their desk areas by using disinfectant wipes regularly, particularly on phones and when hot desking
  • Social distancing measures (such as not shaking hands) can also reduce the risk of cross infection - as can as minimising contact e.g. 1 metre minimum between employees and visitors
  • Clean surfaces and door handles regularly with antibacterial cleaning materials
  • Avoid large group meetings (e.g. canteens) by staggering lunch breaks
The NHS website also has a helpful section on seasonal flu, its prevention and flu vaccination at http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Flu/Pages/Introduction.aspx

We are finding that many employers now recognise the impact of seasonal flu on their business and are providing flu vaccination to their employees.

To meet this need, Taylor-Mohrs offers seasonal flu vaccination to those not entitled to it through the NHS. This only takes minutes and often takes place at their place of work. For employers, the cost is minimal compared to the real cost of absence.

Please contact Taylor-Mohrs Occupational Health Services on 0117 906 4227 for more details.

11 October 2012

New 2012 absence findings mask deeper problems in the workplace

The CIPD has just published the results of its 2012 Absence Management survey (in conjunction with Simplyhealth) and August saw the publication of the annual Aviva Absence report. 

As an occupational health physician, I hope this summary of both surveys will help you absorb the key trends in sickness absence and the impact they are having in the workplace.

The CIPD analysed responses from 667 employers in July and Aviva polled 1,000 British adult employees and 500 employers in June.

The headline CIPD finding was that absence levels dropped by nearly a day in 2012 compared to 2011. Data showed that the average number of sick days across all sectors fell from 7.7 days in 2011 to 6.8 this year.

As always, there are differences in the public and private sectors. Sick leave in the public sector dropped to its lowest level for 10 years as employees took 7.9 days off ill compared to 9.1 in 2011. Absence also fell to 5.7 days in the private sector, down from 7.1 the year before.

While the overall trend shows decreased absence levels, employers are reporting much higher incidences of their staff coming in to work whilst sick, also known as ‘presenteeism’. A third of CIPD respondents report an increase in staff working through illness (particularly in organisations expecting to make redundancies in the next 6 months) - no doubt caused by fears of job security in these uncertain economic times. 

However, while the continuing fall in absence figures is positive, the CIPD is concerned that “they may mask deeper problems in the workplace” according to CIPD research advisor Dr Jill Miller. Commenting on the findings, Dr Miller urged employers to examine whether lower absence levels are as a result of more effective absence management or if they reflect the negative impact of presenteeism.

As it did last year, stress remains the top reason for workers to take sick leave. 40% of employers reported a rise in stress-related absences but only 10% of employers felt that the problem had decreased. Yet, despite the growing problem of stress, almost a third of employers said they were not doing anything to reduce it. 

Looking at the main causes of stress at-work, the CIPD survey revealed that workload is an increasing problem, with 57% of organisations listing it in the top three most common causes, compared to 48% in 2011. Employers also listed considerable organisational change/restructuring (31%) and management style (36%) as top causes for stress, suggesting that employers could be doing more to reduce stress in the workplace.

Of additional concern is that the percentage of employers reporting mental health problems among employees, such as anxiety and depression, has more than doubled from 21% in 2009 to 44% 2012.

The main findings of the Aviva Absence Survey focus on the impacts of absence on the workforce. 45% of employers polled believe long term sickness absence is a big issue for their business and 40% say colleagues have to pick up the work of absent employees. 27% say productivity falls during absence, 21% say service standards suffer and nearly a quarter (22%) believe it impacts the business financially. Furthermore, the findings reveal a kind of absence ‘knock on effect’ as 17% of employers report seeing other members of staff go off sick when their colleagues are off long-term. 

The Aviva report reveals that sickness absence is a significant worry for employees too. Half the employees taking part in the research state that their key concern, behind their recovery (61%), is making ends meet if they were absent from work
As always, the facts are really only helpful if we can use them to reflect on our own experiences and to develop strategies for trying to improve things. Helping managers to recognise the signs of stress at work and then supporting both manager and employee with the situation can be very effective in reducing sickness absence. A temporary reduction in workload or flexibility with working hours can often support someone as they try to cope with a stressful situation, whatever the cause. Surveys have regularly shown that companies who allow flexibility within the workplace are rewarded with increased employee commitment and loyalty.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss a particular problem in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact me on 0117 906 4227 or rick@taylormohrs.co.uk

10 July 2012

The Taylor-Mohrs Healthy Travel Summary

Whether you are a frequent business traveller or are planning your summer break, we hope you’ll find some useful travel health tips in this summary of travel related websites. 
We’ve looked at sites from the Foreign Office, Net Doctors, The Guardian and you’ll find links to everything from what vaccinations to have, how to prevent deep vein thrombosis when traveling, business travel tips and a country by country travel health search facility. We’ve even added a guide to the world’s top 10 beaches if you haven’t already booked your tickets.
Don’t forget, Taylor-Mohrs is a registered Yellow Fever Centre and advises on travel health and vaccinations. So, once you know where you are off to - do get in touch if you have any questions.
Happy (and healthy) travels!
Ten tips for healthy travel
A good summary of the main health related things to consider both before and during travel - as promoted by the International Society of Travel Medicine.
Travel health tips from the Foreign Office
Another summary page covering vaccinations and immunisations, general travel health tips, coping with long distance journeys, what to do if you have pre-existing medical conditions, advice on HIV, AIDS and Malaria.
Foreign travel country selector
A very useful site from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office which allows you to select the individual country of travel to receive specific travel advice for that destination. This page also has useful links with advice on how you can renew a lost passport and the steps to take if you fall sick or injured abroad.
Five key tips for healthy business travel
A good piece by businesswoman Amanda Cook who describes herself as having survived 3 overseas relocations as well as extensive international business travel. This article discusses pre-travel diet and how to combat traveling across time zones.
Travel vaccinations guide
Not sure what vaccinations you need? The Net Doctor’s site will help you find out what's required. Click on a region to find the vaccination required for your destination. 
You might also like to know that Taylor-Mohrs provide most travel related vaccinations and are a registered Yellow Fever centre in Bristol.
Deep Vein Thrombosis prevention when traveling
This page by patient.co.uk explains what this is, who might be at risk and has a summary of the exercises that can be taken to reduce the risk of travel-related deep vein thrombosis.
The Guardian Best Beach Guide for 2012
When you have all the health issues covered and you’ve had those immunisations then for many, it’s off to the beach! If you haven’t yet decided - this is a great page with the Guardian Travel Editor’s picks for the Top 10 beaches in the world plus all the UK’s best beaches. 
Our own travel page
Taylor-Mohrs has its own travel page with more links for travel safety tips and details of the travel vaccinations performed by our own qualified medical and nursing staff. These can be given at your place of work or at our own consulting rooms in Clifton, Bristol.
To discuss any aspect of travel health or to arrange a travel vaccination appointment, please contact us at Taylor-Mohrs on 0117 906 4227 or info@taylormohrs.co.uk

12 June 2012

What happens at an occupational health referral?

At Taylor-Mohrs we are often asked about the process of referring an employee to us for an occupational health assessment - what are the circumstances for a referral, how does it work, what information is required and what should you expect in return?
As a CQC registered occupational health practice in Bristol, Taylor-Mohrs has clear service levels in place for referring employers which we are happy to supply on request. This article is intended as a brief summary of some of the issues involved and our thoughts on best practice.
What are the usual reasons for a referral?
There are a number of reasons, the most common include long term sickness absence (usually defined as continuous absence of 4 weeks or more), concerns over reduced performance at work (where a health problem might be an issue), regular cases of short term absence, investigation of work related illness or injury and the assessment of whether a health problem is likely to be work related.
The importance of employee communication
We believe it is helpful to inform the employee why they are being referred and what the process will involve. This in itself can be daunting so Taylor-Mohrs sends the employee friendly and helpful pre-appointment information - and also provides letters for our referring clients to send themselves. We want to put employees at ease before what is, after all, an experience away from their normal doctor.
What information should be provided in advance?
We ask that referring clients provide relevant information on each employee to include sickness absence information, job descriptions relating to the referred employee and any additional work related information that is deemed of assistance. The better the depth and quality of the information, the more likely the physician will be able to fully assess the problem.
If an employer has not referred an employee to an occupational physician before, we will provide a standard referral form with additional questions that can be tailored to specific needs. 
What issues might be explored during the referral?
Our job is to explore the circumstances behind the absence so it is helpful to have a list of questions the employer would specifically like answered.
There may be an underlying medical reason for regular spells of short term absence - we are often asked for an opinion as to whether this is likely to improve. 
Common employer issues include:
Is the employee fit for work - or, when is the employee likely to become fit for work?
What sort of accommodations or adjustments might be needed to return them to work? 
Are these likely to be short term or permanent? 
Does the employee have a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010?
In cases of stress, is the stress caused by the work itself or are there outside issues?
Are further absences likely and at what frequency?
Is the illness and the absence caused or made worse by work activity? 
What can be done to reduce the risk of further health problems in the workplace?
The report
Our report to the referring client will be clear, concise and will address questions asked in the referral, including findings, recommendations and prognosis. Our report will also provide advice on reasonable adjustments an employer may wish to consider including the type of duties that could be undertaken if fitness to work is in question. Where possible a likely date on which the employee could return to work will be stated.
This report will be emailed to the referring client within 48 hours of the consultation or earlier if possible.
Managing expectations
It is important to explain to employees and employers that, as occupational health physicians, we are independently assessing the employee and looking for medical issues affecting their attendance at work. We aim to provide a balanced analysis of the causes of absence and suggest ways of resolving issues. However it is the employer who must ultimately decide what recommendations they are able to support and this is made clear to all employees at the consultation.
For further information about occupational health assessments and our other services, please visit: www.taylormohrs.co.uk or call us on 0117 906 4227.

16 April 2012

What is occupational health and how can it help your people and productivity?

Taylor-Mohrs is an occupational health practice in Bristol. Our new blog has been designed to cover topical issues in occupational health and provide helpful insight that can be used by HR professionals and business owners.

For our first article we are exploring the very essence of what we do. What exactly is occupational health and, why it is so important for the productivity of your workforce?

What is occupational health?

To quote the CIPD, occupational health is a “specialist branch of medicine focusing on health in the workplace." It’s scope covers the physical and mental well-being of all employees and occupational health practitioners also assist employers in managing absence situations - both short and long term. Indeed the CIPD cite occupational health as “the most effective approach for managing long-term absence."

Costs and leading cause of absence

According to the 2011 CIPD absence survey, the average employee takes 6.5 days sick leave annually and costs the employer £659 (with costs higher in the public sector) while the CBI Absence Survey says the annual cost of absence to the UK economy is £17 billion. In 2011, stress became the biggest contributor towards absence levels for the first time.

The business case for occupational health involvement 

At Taylor-Mohrs, we believe that investing in the wellness and health of employees is just as important as plant, machinery and financial assets. In business terms, occupational health is an investment that will produce a significant return in terms of reduced sickness costs (and employer liability for work related illness), optimised staff performance and an enhanced employer and customer reputation. Without a healthy workforce the productivity, morale and engagement of staff suffers - which ultimately impacts a business where it really hurts - in the balance sheet.

How we can help

Occupational health specialists such as Taylor-Mohrs can support organisations by carrying out medicals for new starters and existing employees, advising on work-related illnesses and accidents, and monitoring the health of employees. We can also advise on fitness for work issues and persistent cases of absence and help you design an absence policy. If employees know that absence will be noticed and investigated, they are less likely to take time off work without a genuine and reasonable cause.

Our work is impartial and, while we are often engaged by employers, our advice and interventions help both employer and employee and we strive to create solutions that make practical sense for both.

We are happy to answer any questions you may have on the topic and, if you’d like to get in touch, please contact us at info@taylormohrs.co.uk or 0117 906 4227.