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Occupational Health Services for the Retail Sector

The retail sector is one of the biggest employers in the UK, providing jobs for over 3 million staff. The type of occupational health service that retail outlets need can vary considerably, ranging from support with sickness absence management and pre-placement health checks to more specific issues such as moving and handling, particularly for areas such as warehouses. Within a large distribution centre there may also be the need to design and incorporate a health surveillance programme.

According to BUPA’s research, 55% of employees working in retail have considered leaving work because of the level of stress they are under or because they have not received the support they wanted. 41% of workers in retail also said they didn’t feel they could approach their manager if there was a health issue.

Only 20% of retail workers are offered any form of regular health check. The largest challenge for retail is meeting the needs of all of their staff that can be spread across 100’s of sites across the UK.

Common Health Issues in Retail

Those working in busy shops are at risk of muscular skeletal disorders that can cause a wide range of aches and pains. Incorrect moving and handling technique, when dealing with stocking shelves, handling warehouse deliveries or working on checkout counters can cause repetitive damage to joints and muscles. This can lead to employees taking time off sick or not being able to their jobs properly.

In areas like warehouses where staff regularly handle large and heavy loads, the problem can be even more severe. Here there can be also issues concerning working from height or being at risk from falling objects that have been badly stacked.

As well as specific health concerns, there are also some shared issues that retail sector staff and their managers are faced with. That includes long-term sickness and its management, the possibility of slips and trips in the work place, and the impact of stress, particularly at busy times such as Christmas.

Developing Health and Wellbeing in the Retail Sector

Occupational health professionals can work with businesses such as retail outlets to deliver a wide range of services including:

  • Monitoring employee health – This is increasingly becoming a way for businesses to spot health problems and reduce the impact of sickness and absence. Not only can it have a significant impact on individual health but it can also create better employee engagement and greater awareness of health issues.
  • Better health promotion – With sickness and absence costing UK businesses over £14 billion a year, it makes sense to ensure you have a better-informed workforce. This kind of service gives employees the tools and knowledge to lead healthier lifestyles. That includes the obvious benefits of eating better or quitting smoking but also how to avoid or cope with stress in the workplace.
  • Back to Work – One of the major ways that an occupational health service can help retail businesses is getting employees on long-term sickness back to work as safely and quickly as possible. An OH professional can carry out an assessment which can then lead to the development of a return to work plan, rehabilitation support and temporary adjustments to make things easier for that employee.

Many large retail outlets have their own, inhouse HR and occupational health professionals that provide this kind of service. For small to medium size businesses, it’s not generally possible to introduce that kind of onsite infrastructure and outsourcing an OH service is the next best thing.

There are huge benefits to be gained from making sure that your retail workforce has all the support it needs. It can help your business put in processes that promote better health and wellbeing and provide independent assessments for those on long-term sickness who need assistance in getting back to work.

The good news is that OH services can be tailored to your retail business. Better management of sickness and absence can reduce costs and disruptions, especially when key staff are affected. OH services can also advise on reducing the risk of injury or sickness in the workplace, for example, by introducing movement and handling training for staff.


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