Priorities In Occupational Health

Question from an Occupational Health professional about priorities in her work

This week I received a query about priorities in occupational health today:

I am writing about self-referral v HR referral only – to OH.

I am not allowed to do BP checks, any health promotion really – it’s as though it might take me away from sickness absence and health surveillance is which is my bread and butter.  Drop-ins are not encouraged!

Do you have some thoughts on this?

My Response to Priorities in Occupational Health

I broke the email down into four themes and here are my takeaway points.

The issue of drop-ins

Drop in and Chats in OH
Drop in and Chats in OH

If I were you, I would keep well away from encouraging drop-ins.

The workers love talking to nurses about themselves and will find any excuse to get away from work (I know that sounds cynical, but it is true in most cases).  It’s like they have their private health service.  There is no way to manage drop-ins and takes you away from scheduled work.

Send them off to their doctor, unless you have a management referral.  Otherwise, your time will go on unnecessary health conversations that, although satisfying in a nursey type of way, will eat into all your time and not allow you to make your agenda.

The issue of health promotion

I support health promotion and health education but again, schedule it.

Come up with a programme that covers a year, two years, etc. and links to national days such as no smoking day, etc.  Management will appreciate it more if it is work focussed in some way, such as prostate cancer if they workforce is mainly men or the dangers of drinking if you have a lot of drivers, etc.

Try to do some measurements showing the value of your intervention, such as, before and after questionnaires or satisfaction surveys.  If your company does an employee survey include a health query in some form.  The best way I have found to manage health promotion when there is just one of me is to set up an interest group.  Ask for volunteers from departments to act as a health champion.  They will come up with the ideas and, if you stand back and watch, will run the thing for you.

Check it out with management first, though – you need to get them on board.

The issue of health surveillance

Health surveillance is a legal need and, in my opinion, is the driving force behind your employment in your company.  You cannot get out of it – but you can become more efficient.

Can you train up first aiders to technicians? See if you can issue health questionnaires early or outside the door before coming to you.  Get responsible persons to do the easy stuff like skin inspections.  Revert to questionnaires only when you can.

When you have done a couple of years of health surveillance, review the results.  If you haven’t found any health issues then the company control measures must be working, and you can cut down on screening.

Other obvious questions (sorry if you know this, but I must write it!) Have you got the right people for health surveillance?  Is everyone turning up for appointments?  You have to think of health surveillance as your number one priority due to legal and moral obligations.

The issue of absence management

Managing absence is about cutting down on costs for the company.  You are there to get people back to work but safely.  You are there to look at malingerers.  There is no legal need to do this, and again this can take up time, and complicated cases can make you lose sleep.

I suggest you form a partnership with HR if possible and hold regular meetings.  You have to be clear what your role is in this – the biggest issue you have will be in your time management.  You need to suggest trigger points for when you see people, start to work out your plan and have different strategies for long and short-term absence.

I guess the underlying message here is about how you manage your time based on the needs of your company.  One thing you haven’t mentioned is fitness for work – health screening for particular jobs and pre-placement type assessments.

Drop in appointments
Drop in appointments

Priorities in Occupational Health – My List

In answer to your question, I summarise the priority order, which is:

1.      Health surveillance

2.      Health screening

3.      Absence Management

4.      Health Promotion

5.      Drop-Ins (treatment service)

I hope this helps.

I have been given permission to share this email and my response – hoping that it will help someone else.

Further Reading:

Health surveillance web pages from the Health and Safety Executive


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