Occupational health for employees

Occupational health services are much more than a place where you seek medical help when you fall ill. Occupational health services support and promote your work ability and functional capacity and act as your partner in rehabilitation matters.

Occupational health is much more than treating illnesses

Occupational health services are statutory in Finland. Preventive occupational health services that support work ability (so-called statutory occupational health services) belong to all persons in an employment relationship regardless of whether their employment relationship is permanent, fixed-term, full-time or part-time. In addition to statutory services, your employer can also buy additional medical care services, to the extent they wish.

Occupational health services that prevent illness and disability and support work ability include: 

  • workplace surveys  
  • health examinations and rehabilitation matters  
  • support for work ability and returning to work. 

Even if your employer has only bought the so-called statutory occupational health services, you can, and are advised to, go see an occupational health physician if your work ability is at risk. Such situations include, for example, severe burnout or back symptoms and all work-related and occupational diseases. These situations should be evaluated by the occupational health services. Out of all health care professionals, they are the only ones who are also aware of your working conditions.

What is a workplace survey?

ccupational health services conduct workplace surveys at your workplace. They usually consist of a preliminary questionnaire, a visit to your workplace, a feedback session on the results and a report in writing. The most recent workplace survey report must be available for all employees to see.

An occupational nurse and/or physician (sometimes also an occupational health physiotherapist or psychologist) comes to your workplace and perhaps also to your workstation. They try to get the broadest possible picture of your work and working conditions.

They evaluate your workplace’s work-related and work-environment-related  

  • risks, hazards, exposures and workload factors 
  • resources 
  • their impact on health and work ability.

Furthermore, the workplace survey gives proposals on measures that can help you reduce or completely eliminate potential hazards and workload factors present in your work. 

Based on the workplace survey, your employer plans the contents of the activities together with the occupational health services. They also document the contents in the occupational health services action plan. They plan, for example, what health examinations are necessary and what kind of guidance and advice is needed at your workplace. Therefore, it is important that you answer the questions of the workplace survey and describe your work and matters related to it. The more the occupational health services know about your work and your working conditions, the better and more targeted the help they can provide.

If you do not know what kind of occupational health services your workplace has or how extensive they are, what kinds of activities have been planned or what hazards and workload factors are present in your work, you can ask your supervisor where you can find the information.

What is a work ability assessment and a work ability negotiation?

If your employer is concerned about your state of health and your work ability and whether they are adequate for you to cope at work, they can ask the occupational health services for an assessment of your work ability. This must be done at the latest when you have been on sick leave for at least 90 consecutive days or for shorter, interrupted periods of time. Many people may get scared when their supervisor asks to see them for a discussion, raises their concerns and suggests that they participate in a work ability assessment. There is no reason to be scared: the work ability assessment is a very common measure aimed at supporting you and your work ability.

The assessment usually starts with you meeting with your workplace’s own occupational health nurse who interviews you thoroughly and, if necessary, requests medical reports from the health care units that have treated you. The actual work ability assessment is carried out by an occupational health physician. The occupational health physician makes an overall assessment of your work ability and state of health. Sometimes it goes quickly, and sometimes statements from other specialised doctors are needed, in which case it can take longer to complete the assessment. It is important that you tell the physician how you see your work and how you are coping. You are the best expert when it comes to you and your work. The occupational health services are bound by confidentiality also when carrying out work ability assessments. That means that you can be open about your situation without fearing that your health information would be disclosed to your employer without your permission. The occupational health physician can also include work accommodation proposals in the statement. The physician may, for example, propose the acquisition of an assistive device or modifying your work tasks.

A common practice is to discuss the results of the work ability assessment and the necessary measures in a work ability negotiation (sometimes called occupational health negotiation) together with your supervisor and a representative of the occupational health team. From the occupational health services, the occupational health physician is usually present, sometimes also the occupational health nurse. Depending on the situation, an occupational health psychologist or occupational health physiotherapist can also participate in the negotiation. You may bring a support person with you, if you want.

Your state of health and your illnesses are not discussed in the occupational health negotiation, unless you give your permission to do so. The main focus of the discussion is to find out what kind of work arrangements can support your work ability. These can include, for example, partial sickness allowance, lighter work, work modification or the acquisition of an assistive device. A usual situation in which work ability negotiations are held, in addition to work ability assessments, is returning to work from a long period of sick leave. The work ability negotiation can be initiated by you yourself, your supervisor or the occupational health services.

Occupational health examinations come in different forms

For many, the most familiar occupational health measure is the health examination. Some health examinations are performed during an appointment and some can be performed in the form of questionnaires. Different types of examinations are described below.

Exposure-based health examinations are mandatory for both the employer and the employee if the workplace presents exposure factors, such as noise, chemicals, dust, vibrations, night work or the threat of violence. These examinations are used to assess whether the employee’s health is suitable for the intended work, provide guidelines on protective equipment and occupational safety and examine whether the employee presents symptoms suggesting a potential occupational disease or other work-related illnesses.

Health examinations based on the health demands of the work are also mandatory. These examinations are carried out in jobs that pose special health requirements in terms of occupational safety. The examinations are used to evaluate the employee’s ability to perform the work based on their health. Such examinations are carried out for firefighters, mariners, aircraft pilots and police officers, among other occupations. 

Other occupational health examinations include examinations to monitor the recovery of employees who have been on sick leave for a long period, examinations to evaluate the need for rehabilitation, examinations for people with partial work ability, work ability assessments and examinations carried out to obtain various medical statements.

Support from a multidisciplinary team of occupational health professionals

The occupational health services have appointed a dedicated occupational health team for your workplace. It is a multidisciplinary team of professionals who help you according to your needs.

Occupational health nurse

The occupational health nurse is your contact person for occupational health services. He or she is the person you deal with in many practical matters, such as health examinations and vaccinations.

Occupational health physician

The occupational health physician treats your illnesses as required, evaluates your work ability and your need for rehabilitation, writes referrals and issues medical statements, whenever you need them. The occupational health physician is also needed if your work involves hazards whose health impacts must be evaluated by an expert in occupational medicine. Such hazards are, for example, hazardous chemicals, noise, dust or hand-arm vibration.

Occupational health psychologist

In issues related to the management of work, psychological coping, mental health and psychological stress, the occupational health nurse or physician may also refer you to an occupational health psychologist. You can, and are advised to, go see an occupational health psychologist even if you do not have severe psychological symptoms. The occupational health psychologist specialises in supporting coping at work and providing advice on how you can maintain your mental work ability. 

Read more about mental health

Occupational health physiotherapist

The physician or the occupational health nurse can refer you to an occupational health physiotherapist in various issues related to ergonomics, musculoskeletal symptoms and rehabilitation. The occupational health physiotherapist gives you advice and guidance on work postures, assistive devices and how you can maintain your physical work ability. The occupational health physiotherapist can draw up a rehabilitation plan for you after an operation, for example.

Specialist in social services​

The specialist in social services helps you if you need advice on how to apply for benefits, fill in applications or apply for rehabilitation.