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New guidance for bosses supporting employees with cancer

A report which makes a number of recommendations for employers welcoming back staff who have battled cancer has been announced.

NCSEM-EM academics from Loughborough University were part of a team commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) which was asked to establish a ‘best practice’ for supporting workers who had received treatment for cancer.

The study, Return to work after cancer: occupational safety and health considerations, was led by Dr Joanne Crawford from the Institute for Occupational Medicine (IOM) and involved Dr Fehmidah Munir, Reader in Health Psychology and Dr Hilary McDermott, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, both from Loughborough.

It features guidance and advice for making the back-to-work transition as smooth as possible for both staff and their employers, and looked at:

  • the impact of fatigue on work tasks
  • the psychological demands of the work
  • risks of infection
  • the journey to work
  • driving for work
  • breaks in the working day
  • inclusion of emergency planning if necessary

Dr McDermott said the report was important because it focussed on tailoring the care to the individuals, rather than offering a blanket procedure for assisting all cancer survivors.

She said: “People returning to work following cancer treatment are individuals so their treatment requires an individual approach.

“Initially, a systematic review was undertaken to understand the health and safety implications of returning to work after cancer.

“This identified that understanding the potential changes in individual capacity – both physically and mentally – are essential for an effective return to work.

“It also highlighted the important role of the line manager in being able to offer flexibility in return to work.”

The team used case studies from a variety of organisations and studied the return-to-work process.

Dr McDermott said: “Increasing numbers of people are returning to work after a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment.

“Although there is evidence available in relation to managing the general process of returning to work, prior to this study there was limited information available in relation to safety and health involvement in this process.

“The case studies aimed to identify what employers can do to facilitate return to work and what is good practice in dealing with OSH issues for cancer sufferers returning to the workplace.”

The report was the basis for IOSH’s Return to Work Cancer Toolkit, which uses recommendations from the academic research and complies them in a digestable way for employers.

Kate Field, Head of Information and Intelligence at IOSH, said: “It is important that organisations – human resources, line managers and of course occupational safety and health practitioners – take these issues into account when supporting those diagnosed with cancer.

“The research also adds weight to the evidence that organisations need good rehabilitation processes in place to provide effective support and ensure a successful return to work which includes regular communication and flexible working.

“This is true whatever the type of ill-health, physical or mental.”

The full report is available on the IOSH website: