Centrica employs 30,000 people in the UK and sells a wide range of products and services including energy supply, home services and telecommunications in the UK, Europe and North America.
The nature of the work and the risks involved mean that Centrica’s workforce are potentially vulnerable to musculoskeletal problems and their specialist skills are difficult to replace in the event of sickness absence.
As a result, in order to minimise the potential impact on both the individual and the company, British Gas (part of Centrica) decided to enhance its normal Occupational Health case management with company funded medical interventions for its gas engineers where appropriate. The aim of the scheme was to enable employees to remain at work or, in the event of sickness absence, to help them to return to work more rapidly. The company has since extended the programme across the whole of the Centrica workforce.
Centrica Occupational Health provide a full range of advisory services and although individuals may contact Occupational Health directly, it is normally their line manager who makes the initial referral. If it is considered that a medical intervention would increase the likelihood of the employee remaining at work or would hasten their return to work, Centrica will consider funding the intervention from an extensive portfolio of providers covering both physical and mental ill health including consultations, treatment and rehabilitation. For example:
Centrica have agreed benefit in kind tax exemption with the Inland Revenue for musculoskeletal and mental health conditions for many employees provided of course that the condition fulfils the criteria laid down by the Inland Revenue for tax exemption.
The rehabilitation programme and use of company funded interventions has proved extremely successful in reducing sickness absence and keeping employees at work. Following the introduction of the programme in 1998, sickness absence in British Gas engineers was reduced by 39% in the first 3 years and although expenditure varies across the Centrica Group, the company continues to spend an average of £600 000 annually on funded interventions for British Gas engineers. Approximately 13 per cent of the engineers use the programme each year at an average cost of £588 each.
Dr David Flower, Centrica's Group Head of Occupational Health is convinced that active rehabilitation is the right strategy for the organisation. He said:
”The concept of company funded rehabilitation started as a small scale programme exclusively for British Gas engineers in 1998. However, its success has been such that over the last two years we have broadened the range of treatment and rehabilitation services available and, in addition, opened the programme to all other employees within the Group.”
Tricia O’Neill, Health Services Manager for British Gas echoes his views:
”Employees and managers alike value the Centrica rehabilitation programme. Their support and confidence in what we are doing has enabled us to establish a comprehensive portfolio of services that fully meets the needs of the business.”