From January 2012, the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) is to open its membership to associated healthcare practitioners engaged in improving working-age health, including occupational health (OH) nurses.
The move will mean that OH nurses, ergonomists, occupational hygienists, physiotherapists, psychologists, research scientists, occupational therapists, toxicologists and epidemiologists who hold a professional qualification will all be able to join the society as affiliate members.
The decision also sent out a strong signal about the growing importance of collaborative and multi-disciplinary working in tackling workplace health, society president Dr Henry Goodall told Occupational Health.
"The society thought long and hard about this issue. Occupational health has changed radically over the past 20 years in both structure and delivery, and there is much closer work with many associated professions now," he said.
"To remain representative and relevant, and to reflect the modern aspects of occupational health delivery, this is the way forward," added Goodall.
The change would also lead to closer working, understanding and communication between different OH professionals, he suggested, in an environment where multi-disciplinary working has become the norm in many areas.
"It is about working with other co-professionals; recognising that an ageing working population needs to be able to support people to return to work and looking at the ways in which OH services are delivered," he said.
Society members voted on the change at their annual general meeting in June.
"I believe that this partnership approach will be beneficial for all of us and provide opportunities for inter-professional learning. More importantly, it will increase our ability to protect and improve the health of people of working age," Goodall said.
Affiliate members will receive the same benefits and voting rights as full members, and there will be an additional "associate" status for those who wish to apply for it.
Although the scheme will not formally launch until next year, OH practitioners interested in becoming affiliates can register their interest on the SOM website.