Occupational Health: Core Areas of Knowledge and Competence

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OHA’s can contribute by helping managers to manage sickness absences more effectively. The nurse may be involved in helping to train line managers and supervisors on how to best use the OH service, how to refer staff, what type of information will be required, and what to expect from occupational health. By developing transparent referral procedures, ensuring that medical confidentiality is maintained and that the workers’ rights are respected, the OHA can ensure that employees referred for assessment due to sickness absence are comfortable with the process.

OH, nurses, with their close relationship with workers, knowledge of the working environment, and trends in ill-health in the company, are often in an excellent position to advise management on preventing sickness absence. In my experience, referral to General Practitioners has limited use for work-related issues, and gain best results by keeping the GP aware, referring to a specialist occupational physician.

Planned rehabilitation strategies can help ensure a safe return to work for employees who have been absent from work due to ill-health or injury. The nurse is often the key person in the rehabilitation program who will, with the manager and individual employee, complete a risk assessment, devise the rehabilitation program, monitor progress, and communicate with the individual, the OH physician, and the line manager. Nurses have also become involved in introducing proactive rehabilitation strategies that aim to detect early changes in health before such conditions result in absence from work. Improving and sustaining working ability benefits many groups, the individual, the organization, and society, as costly lack and other health care costs are avoided.

In many cases, the OH nurse has to work within the organization as the client’s advocate to ensure that managers appreciate the value of comprehensively improving the workforce’s health. OH, nurses have the skills necessary to undertake this work and may develop areas of particular interest.

The occupational health nurse may develop proactive strategies to help the workforce maintain or restore their workability. New workers, older workers, women returning to work following pregnancy, or workers who have been unemployed for a prolonged period may benefit from health advice or a planned program of work hardening exercises to help maintain or restore their workability even before any health problems arise. Increasingly, the industry’s issues are psychosocial and can be even more complex and costly to deal with. OH nurses, working at the company level, are in an excellent position to advise management on strategies that can be adopted to improve the psychosocial health and wellbeing of workers.

Health and safety

The OHA can have a role to play in developing health and safety strategies. Where significant or high-risk organizations have their in-house health and safety specialists, the OHA can work closely with these specialists to ensure that the nurse’s expertise in health, risk assessment, health surveillance, and environmental health management is fully utilized in the health and safety strategy. Occupational health nurses are trained in health and safety legislation, risk management, and the control of workplace health hazards. Therefore, they can make a valuable contribution to the overall management of health and safety at work, with particular emphasis on ‘health’ risk assessment.

Hazard identification

The nurse often has close contact with the workers and is aware of changes to the working environment. Because of the nurse’s expertise in the effects of work on health, they are in an excellent position to be involved in hazard identification. Hazards may arise due to new processes or working practices or from informal changes to existing procedures and working practices that the nurse can readily identify and assess the likely risk. This activity requires and pre-supposed regular and frequent workplace visits by the occupational health nurse to maintain up-to-date knowledge and awareness of working processes and practices.

Risk assessment

A risk management approach is increasingly driving legislation in Europe. OHA’s are trained in risk assessment and risk management strategies. Depending upon their level of expertise and the complexity involved in the risk assessment, the nurse can undertake risk assessments or contribute to the risk assessment by working closely with other specialists Blogging Kits.

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