New Government proposals to help businesses manage sickness absence have been generally welcomed by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

In 2011, Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE were commissioned to take a serious look at sickness absence in Britain, and today the Department for Work and Pensions has published its response to their recommendations.

IOSH states that it has long campaigned for workplaces to be used more to improve health and wellbeing, and support those with health conditions to return to, or remain in work.

Commenting on today’s announcement, IOSH Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Richard Jones, said:

“IOSH welcomes the new Government plans to help more workers to stay in work and employers to manage attendance better.

“We know that prolonged ‘worklessness’ can have a detrimental effect on mental and physical health – while on the other hand ‘good work’, that is safe, supportive and accommodates people’s needs, can be good for health and wellbeing.”

The new independent and advisory service aimed at getting people back to work and away from long-term sickness benefits will save employers up to £160m a year in statutory sick pay and increase economic output by up to £900m a year, according to the Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud.

Commenting on the new initiative, Lord Freud said:

“Long-term sickness absence is a burden to business, to the taxpayer and to the thousands of people who get trapped on benefits when they could actually work.

“So for the first time, all employers, big or small, will have access to a service that offers the early support they need to keep people in work and fulfil their aspirations.

“It is further proof that this Government is confronting all the challenges facing Britain and making sure we compete and thrive in the global race.”

It has come up with numerous proposals for dealing with sickness absence, including a new, state-funded, Independent Assessment Service, to give employers, employees and GPs access to expert advice on vocational rehabilitation and return-to-work issues.

The new service will provide an assessment from an occupational health advisor once any employee has been off work sick for four weeks, and carry out case management in complex cases.

Amongst the other proposals, the Government is intending to revise guidance to doctors on how to complete fit notes, so as to provide a broader perspective on the employee’s fitness for any work, rather than just concentrating on the job they are employed to do.

In wake of the announcement, Dame Carol Black, said:

“I very much welcome the Government’s decision to press ahead with the new independent assessment and advisory service which David and I recommended in our Review.

“A new independent assessment and advice service will address the sicknote culture and offer people the best possible support to get back to work quickly.

“What David and I found in our Review is that far too many people with potentially manageable conditions – like stress or back pain – are effectively being signed off work for life, sliding from a short spell of sickness absence to a life of long-term benefit dependency.

“The changes being made by the Government today will begin to change that. They will ensure that employers and employees get the best possible access to occupational health advice and support. And the new service will also provide much-needed support for GPs too, so they can spend more time helping their patients and less time having to police the benefit system.”

David Frost added:

“Employers consistently report that the current system does not provide their employees with enough support to enable a smooth and planned return to work.

“The proposed advisory and assessment service will give clear advice on which a business can make a judgement about when and on what circumstances their employee will return after a period of absence.

“Overall, the measures proposed will reduce costs to business and prevent people needlessly going onto sickness benefits.”

The independent occupational health assessment and advice service is expected to be up and running in 2014.