Occupational Health South West

helping employers ...
    ... help their employees ...
          ... help their employer

Helping an employee back to work


OHSW was asked to review Mr M, a 57 year old cafe manager, regarding his fitness for work.  Mr M's situation was quite typical:

  • He had been absent from work for three months with a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome
  • He had been suffering symptoms for fourteen months
  • His absence started in short periods with occasional weeks off, then a month, and then long term

Mr M returned to work for a short period, but experienced an increase in musculoskeletal aches and pains and overwhelming fatigue.   He was again certified unfit for work and has not since returned.  His GP had been unable to make progress with his situation. 

As an employee of a small company, Mr M's absence was placing increasing pressure on the business's profitability.  OHSW were called in to review matters on behalf of the employer.

How OHSW helped

During an initial 30 minute consultation,  Mr M explained that he enjoyed his work but was finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact that his livelihood may be under threat. 

OHSW confirmed that Mr M did have underlying musculoskeletal problems, but the main reason for his chronic fatigue was stress-related due to his inability to manage his symptoms and work-life balance.  A vicious cycle of "boom and bust" had quickly developed, and eventually Mr M started to "give up" on matters.  There was also beginning to be a detrimental impact on his personal relationships.

A review of Mr M's working environment quickly showed that he had been provided with a chair that exacerbated a relatively insignificant underlying complaint of chronic low back pain that exaggerated his musculoskeletal symptoms.  More importantly, OHSW also concluded that an underlying cause of his stress was the introduction of new computer equipment and the difficulty that he had with numeracy, and that this was expressing itself as fatigue.  Mr M confided that being a stoical man he had been too embarrassed to relate these problems to the employer.

OHSW recommended that the employer review Mr M's position with respect to improving his seating arrangements and removing responsibilities for dealing with the computer system.  Mr M understood that reduced responsibility would be reflected in a lower salary, but he confirmed to OHSW that he would be prepared to accept this in order to return happily and sustainably to work as he valued employment.

The Outcome

After a few weeks' preparation following discussion with his line manager, Mr M returned to work, initially on a part-time basis gradually rebuilding his hour and duties.  Periodic reviews with OHSW enabled management to remain aware of his progress and for any untoward health affect to be monitored.  In due course Mr M recommenced full-time employment with slightly reduced responsibilities.

During the last year Mr M has had one period of sickness (3 days) due to mild irritation of his long-standing back complaint.  The employer is more than satisfied that this is a reasonable absence rate, and is delighted to have a trusted and long-serving employee back on board.

Key Conclusions

Look out for stress

Employers should be on the look-out for underlying issues (often stress-related) that could be masked by more obvious symptoms.

Don't wait

In this instance using professionals to unlock the real reasons for absence immediately arrested a situation that was starting to spiral out of control.

Consider the worst-case

Without intervention, not only would the employer have lost a valued employee, had Mr M's position worsened further he may have successfully pursued a claim that his stress was the fault of the employer.


Our Services

We provide the following services throughout Cornwall, South Devon, and the Southwest of England:

Choose OHSW, because:

We are:

  • Affordable
  • Approachable
  • Prompt
  • Flexible
  • Local

What do our Clients say?

Macsalvors (Plant Hire) Ltd:

"I cannot speak too highly of OHSW. The service and speed of response is always first class from the dedicated and very knowledgeable team. Thank you."

The Seafood Restaurant, Padstow:

"thank you for your fantastic service... we really appreciate your dedication and excellent value for money."

A&P Falmouth

"We have worked with OHSW for more than 10 years... Dr Tellam is always on hand to offer professional advice and support... feedback is always prompt and concise."