This week’s letters
Fractals and the chaos theory
I write with regard to one of the questions raised towards the end of the OH
conference in Edinburgh regarding the role of the occupational health nurse. It
seems some confusion and complexity exists as to what is taught on the course
and the application of such within the actual work environment where the (OHN)
practices in relation to role.
I think we have to accept that the role is dynamic and changing; it moves
with the pulse of the organisation or work culture. Nevertheless, this question
actually made me think of the correct definition of the OHN.
The original definition has stood for more than 50 years and was defined at
a meeting between doctors and representatives of the World Health Organisation
in Geneva in 1950. In summary it basically states that OHNs ensure health is
not damaged by work.
Due to changes in the work environment and in work culture I think the
definition of the role should also change. It would be difficult to define all
the skills an OHN has or to list them all. That would be an essay in itself.
This brings me to my interest in fractals and chaos theory and the use of these
terms in trying to define the OHN.
So what are fractals? Fractals can be anything that contain self-similar
images within itself. For example, the body’s circulatory system is a fractal.
If you look at the blood vessels in your hand, they represent the overall shape
the system takes on. A mathematician would conclude that fractals are created
at the boundary between chaos and order.
Chaos theory states that everything is subject to so many variables that it
becomes almost, but not completely, random. There is no way of predicting all
the variables (reflecting on the OHN role) and anticipating what is going to
happen next, because any small change can be amplified until it has a larger
impact on other things within the role.
There are billions of variables but fractals are not completely chaotic,
they do have an order that keeps them from being totally chaotic or totally
I think, therefore, the dynamic ever-changing role of the occupational
health nurse has to be defined as a fractal as the role cannot be definitively
I hope I have clarified some of the complexity.
Student, Glasgow Caledonian University
Are bad manners the norm?
Recently I have been short-listed for two Occupational Health posts.
In both cases a period of more than four weeks has passed without any
notification from either of the companies. I take it that I have been
I have travelled a total of 150 miles for one interview and used two days
holiday between the two applications. I am now wondering if it was really worth
I am interested to find out if anyone else has experienced this problem and
is it now the norm for companies only to contact the successful candidate?
Name and address withheld