For nurses new to occupational health (OH) the application of core nursing skills is required in a different way. Employees, workers, supervisors and managers are not ‘patients’ in the traditional sense, as the working population is considered healthy. Much of the routine OH work completed entails preventative action, monitoring and surveillance of particular populations for the early identification of work-related problems, as well as supporting those who are ill or injured to stay at work or return to work post-treatment in a timely manner. This is supported by a rather large document base which may include clinical records, statutory health and safety records, policies and procedures, robust screening and surveillance questionnaires and educational resources.

Many nurses will already have robust communication skills when liaising with clients, but ultimately in OH the customer base is wider and may include other health professionals, line and senior management, as well as safety and human resource colleagues. There will be potentially conflicting needs in relation to business operational matters, as well as legislative requirements. In some sectors such as in care, there are added challenges where the needs of the service user may influence an employee’s workability. Therefore, robust risk assessment of the employee and the service user’s needs, combined with practitioner problem-solving skills, may be required to enable a positive outcome.

This may be more challenging as OH services are provided in many different ways, including in-house, via OH providers using their practitioners, agency staff and/or contractors, as well as independent lone practitioners. OH can be a somewhat isolated role for those working peripatetically or as lone practitioners, whether employed or self-employed.

Whether new to OH or a lone practitioner, it is useful to be able to discuss a case to check that required actions from both the health as well as safety perspectives have been considered and/or completed.

Examples where assistance and reassurance may be required include:

  • system assessment e.g. musculoskeletal, vision
  • interpreting questionnaires and/or test results e.g. hearing, breathing, drugs
  • health education and advice giving
  • signposting – when to refer and to whom
  • challenging cases e.g. chronic health conditions, severe injuries, cognitive impairment
  • unusual symptoms
  • writing and/or reviewing worker-specific risk assessments
  • taking a history and report writing for case management
  • making recommendations, including potential ‘reasonable adjustments’
  • advising on the potential applicability of health and safety, as well as employment law
  • helping employers to defend negligence claims
  • record-keeping and data protection
  • health conditions and safety critical roles e.g. working at heights, confined spaces, driving
  • OH needs assessment and contract/service level agreement set-up
  • reviewing OH questionnaires, policies and procedures

oh learning hub can offer support on an ad-hoc, project or ongoing basis. Please email us to identify how we may be able to support you or your OH practitioner’s needs.