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The Impact of Covid-19 on Occupational Health

Before the pandemic, the role of Occupational Health professionals was to care for employees by promoting health, safety and wellness at work. Then COVID hit, and over the course of 12 months, the country has been placed in lockdown three times with many workplaces still remaining closed.

Life turned on its head and this presented OH specialists with two key objectives – firstly, to do everything within their power to protect staff from catching or passing on the virus when they were at work; secondly, to prepare employees for a healthy and safe return to their jobs as offices do reopen their doors.

The challenges of safe return to work

The major challenge within the profession – as reported in Occupational Health and Wellbeing1 – is the sheer scale of the physical and mental health return-to-work issues it faces, combined with the practicalities of getting workplaces back up and running safely and the complexities of continuing to provide ‘normal’ OH activities in a socially distanced working world.

It could easily become overwhelming and with this in mind, since the crisis began, organisations across the industry have been compiling useful resources, including:

  • The government’s Working Safely During Coronavirus guidance2
  • Public Health England updates3
  • The Society of Occupational Medicine toolkit4

The incredible experts within this sector have undoubtedly risen to the challenge and will continue to do so but the pressure is bound to take its toll. A survey by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) of 1,500 professionals and students5 found 98% of respondents said their work had been impacted in some way. A third were redeployed to other teams, and 60% were delivering services differently as a result of COVID, such as shifting to working online instead of seeing patients face-to-face. 50% also said their work-life balance had been affected, and 46% said their health and wellbeing had been negatively affected by the pandemic.

The profile of Occupational Health and Therapy has been hugely raised

Despite these immense challenges, there’s no doubt that the profile of Occupational Health and Therapy has been raised over the last year – something that was demonstrated throughout this year’s OT Week in November. The RCOT launched #ChooseOT, a national campaign designed to promote the benefits of working within the sector.

Those within the profession of Occupational Health deserve great recognition – they play an instrumental role in supporting the country’s workforce through the pandemic and in time, through to economic recovery as the UK opens back up for business.

1https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/coronavirus-will-it-be-occupational-health-rather-the-nhs-that-is-overwhelmed-post-lockdown/

2https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19

3https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-guidance

4https://www.som.org.uk/return-to-work/

5https://www.rcot.co.uk/sites/default/files/The_impact_of_the_COVID-19_pandemic_on_occupational_therapy_in_the_United_Kingdom_-_Survey_report.pdf

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