Obituary: Brenda Slaney, a pioneer of OH nursing, died on 23 September aged
Brenda Slaney devoted her life to nursing and in particular to occupational
health where she was very well known both nationally and internationally.
She started her occupational health nursing career in 1947 at the British
American Optical Company, which employed 500 people making spectacle frames and
lenses. She found industrial nursing, as it was then known, full of challenges
as she coped with the injuries caused by working with glass, occupational
dermatitis and, as was common in those days, tuberculosis.
She took the six month industrial nursing course at the RCN and was in the
last group to be called industrial nurses. Brenda valued her training highly
and considered the practical skills of an OH nurse as essential to practice,
saying, "Unless you can actually see the job and empathise with the
workforce you have no idea what the stresses and strains of the job are."
In 1957 she started at the RCN as tutor in OH nursing and was instrumental
in setting up the day-release courses. She expanded OH training from just the
RCN course to 21 centres offering the approved course. This widened the access
gate for hundreds of nurses entering the profession.
She was closely involved with the WHO, International Labour Organisation and
the International Commission on Occupational Health. A gifted speaker, she
presented many papers worldwide. She also set up and taught OH courses in
Nigeria, and was involved in the initial discussions about setting up the RCN
OH courses in Zambia.
Brenda retired from the RCN as Principal Lecturer in 1984 and was awarded
the MBE for her work in OH nursing.
Following her retirement she suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis which
caused her increasing mobility problems, but she remained active mentally and
even published her second book Nursing at Work while resident in the nursing
My own first contact with Brenda was when, newly appointed as OH Nursing
Officer in the NHS, I had turned up unannounced at the Institute to plead for a
place on the OH course, having been told there was a two year waiting list.
I had no idea then who Brenda Slaney was, and had I known I would not have
had the courage to demand anything. It was Brenda who encouraged me to write,
acting as mentor and, despite her sometimes fierce approach, she helped me and
I am sure many, many others towards deeper involvement in occupational health.
Brenda Slaney was determined, outspoken and fierce in her beliefs and
standards of practice. With her head on one side, her enquiring look and
lopsided smile, she seemed at once to be boring into your soul yet caring about
you as a person, always listening to problems and asking about family by name.
I and countless others have cause to be grateful to Brenda for her
knowledge, tenacity, humour and contribution to the OH nursing profession. She
was a ‘proper nurse’ and will be greatly missed by us all.
Mavis Gordon, Director Gordon Associates, formerly Principal Lecturer in
Occupational Health, RCN Institute