Care converters

Answering the HSE’s call to raise the profile of occupational health, gas
utility Transco called in OH provider Liberty to come up with solutions.  By Jenny MacKenzie

Steering a path for 22,000 staff through what have been some choppy waters
of change for gas company Transco has been the greatest challenge for OH
provider Liberty.

Liberty, which regards Transco as its biggest client, took up the Transco
contract in April last year and the 15 OHAs and two RGNs who make up the
Transco team are running what contract manager Sharon Horan describes as
"a meaty job".

Transco was formed in 1994 eight years after British Gas was deregulated,
gaining responsibility for the national gas network and gas emergency service.

The Liberty OHAs are now starting to work as a team, and at their second
team-building session at Transco’s Solihull headquarters in January this year,
they took time to share experiences and recognise each other’s achievements.

Colleagues listened to comments about the need for flexibility at a company
"downsizing, streamlining and undergoing tremendous change".

An added pressure for Transco came with a Health and Safety Executive audit
of the company last March. In line with the government’s recommendations to
raise the profile of OH in large UK companies, it was no surprise that the HSE
called for OH care to be given a higher priority within Transco.

Most pressing for the Liberty team, however, has been the need to implement
an effective OH care structure, after the upheavals caused by the company
changes. The team needed to reclaim ownership for the company care, to
establish consistency after a series of agency involvements and to update
records.

Remote working

Jim Gillan is the OH link for Scotland, an area that throws up specific
challenges. "Many employees spend a lot of time driving," he says.
"A lot work from their vans, with a lap-top and a mobile. It is quite a
lonely job and many communicate this."

Health surveillance checks are carried out at the nearest office, or in
outlying areas – in hotel rooms or conference centres. Full health surveillance
medicals are given every three years, with those exposed to chemical-related
lung functions and skin disorders being checked on a one-year basis.

"The workforce is ageing," Gillan says, "Many of the men have
worked at the company for a long time. It is difficult to get young people to
go to the remote areas."

Graham Hedley provides OH care for Transco employees from the Scottish
border down to Middlesbrough and across to Workington and Carlisle.

For him too much of the work is peripatetic. "We take OH care to where
the work is," he says. If necessary, Hedley will intervene with a
private-care referral if it means the employee will get back to work quicker.
"This is sometimes more helpful both to the employee and to Transco,"
he says.

For Transco’s inner-city employees there are pressures of a different kind,
says June Murray, who works in North London job-sharing with Lisa Hyde.
"They are often answering calls deep in the City," she says.
"They have to comply with the Transco rule of responding to the call
within one hour, and with continual difficult traffic problems, this can create
ongoing anxiety."

Outside pressures

Shift work also creates pressures, she says, and many employees struggle
with both financial and relationship pressures. "Many rely on their
overtime as part of their income, and become worried if a back problem, or
other health issues prevent them from keeping that up. The health problem
inevitably gets worse when they are worried about money."

Stress levels in some cases can tip into depression and Murray’s aim this
year is to help managers understand depression, both as an illness and a health
problem.

Shaun Fox, senior OH adviser for the Midlands and the South, agrees that
"finances are one of the driving forces of stress" for employees, who
often base domestic commitments on their overtime earnings. The call-out system
can damage personal relationships.

Sue Jacques is based at Transco headquarters in Solihull and provides OH
care for almost 5,000 employees, mostly office-based staff and managers. Stress
is a big pressure for these employees.

"Often they are living away from home," she says. "They take
work home at night and sometimes at weekends. They don’t leave any time for
themselves.

"Transco does, however, take the stress factor very seriously and has
referred to outside consultants. The problem is in hand."

Putting across the message that jobs are no longer for life is a large part
of the OHA’s education programme for employees. Sue Mitchell, based in Bristol,
says that this sometimes requires "a mental and attitudinal
turnaround" as staff sometimes do not see themselves as supervisors or
managers," she says. "Some are not able to make this leap for a
variety of reasons. But others are responding to a learning and development
policy to broaden their abilities."

Advocate for change

Liberty’s practice for Transco has brought a welcome fresh wave of change to
some OH advisers who had become very discouraged.

Ann Fisher is the only remaining OH employee from the original British Gas
regional structure, and is now senior adviser for seven of the Liberty team
covering the northern area.

"They have turned things around," she says. "Things are much
more relaxed. There are people who will listen to you and we all feel very much
part of a team."

Transco is the first Liberty contract providing occupational healthcare
nationwide. The provider is an international arm of the US based Liberty Mutual
insurance group, a company which established a health and safety research
centre in the US as early as 1954.

Liberty Occupational Health is based in Aberdeen and has evolved from a
provider of predominantly north east Scotland emergency medical support, linked
with the North Sea oil companies and rigs.

For Liberty contract manager Horan, who joined the firm last October after a
previous 20-year association with a firm which had "a conservative
approach", her new job offers a challenge.

"I enjoy being an advocate for change, giving options and encouraging
flexible and new approaches," she says.

"This company encourages experimentation with thought. And ultimately
the company’s ethos impacts on the staff.

"There are not many OH nurses prepared to gamble and take risks. But
here we are able to get everything on the table, look at the issues and see how
we can make things work."

Positive feedback

Liberty chief executive and director of occupational health Bill Gunnyeon
acknowledges the strengths of the Liberty Transco team.

"It is not easy to work remotely and still feel part of a team,"
he says. "It says a lot for the OHA’s that they are able to do this so
effectively."

And final praise for the team comes from Ann Fisher who says, "We have
some very good OH advisers, who came into what was not an easy atmosphere.

"They overcame criticism, which was often justified, from both
employees and managers and have helped to turn things around. Now it feels as
if we are getting somewhere."

Progress is helped, says the team, by the quality of the Transco employee.
"We are new kids on the block, whereas many of these employees have worked
at their jobs for 20 years," says Chris Oakes, who covers Yorkshire.
"Yet they are down-to-earth and have made us feel very welcome."

Liberty Occupational Health is a private provider of occupational healthcare
based in Aberdeen. It has evolved from providing support to predominantly north
east Scotland emergency medical services, linked with the North Sea oil
companies and rigs. It is an arm of the US based Liberty Mutual insurance group
which established a health and safety research centre in the US in 1954.

OH team at Liberty Occupation Health

Liberty Occupational Health is a private provider of occupational healthcare
based in Aberdeen. It has evolved from providing support to predominantly north
east Scotland emergency medical services, linked with the North Sea oil
companies and rigs. It is an arm of the US based Liberty Mutual insurance group
which established a health and safety research centre in the US in 1954.

Liberty took up the Transco contract last April. The Transco team is made up
of 15 occupational health advisers and two RGNs.

Team members include:

Director of occupational health             Bill Gunnyeon
General manager                                   Murray
Strachan
Contract manager                                 Sharon
Horan
Transco service administrator                Sarah
Hackett

OH advisers include: Bruce Chireka, Jane Foster, Ann Fisher, Shaun Fox, Jim
Gillan, Graham Hedley, Lisa Hyde, Sue Mitchell, June Murray, Chris Oakes, Sue
Jacques, Christine Rhodes, Gil Dod, Ian Watkinson and Helen Williams.

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