Occupational Health Awards 2011: The winners

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Congratulations to the category winners of the Occupational Health Awards 2011. The overall winner will be announced at the Personnel Today Awards on 23 November at the Hilton, Park Lane, London.

Award for Absence Management – Sponsored by AXA PPP Healthcare

WINNER: Department for Work and Pensions

What they did: Against a background of staffing cuts and a programme of welfare reform, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continued to improve employee health awareness and sense of wellbeing to bring average sickness absence closer to its target of 7.7 days per employee. The Fit for Work approach, in partnership with the DWP’s psychology services and senior occupational physicians, enabled managers and employees to agree a plan, with clear, achievable goals, to bring about a successful return to work.

Impact on the organisation: The DWP achieved its lowest ever sickness absence rate of 8.1 days per employee, from a peak of 11.1 days in 2008. It is spending approximately £21 million less on sick pay annually, equivalent to 1,300 posts every year, 1.5 million pensioner home visits or 1.9 million jobseeker interviews.

Judge’s comments: A lot of work and effort has been put into improving absence management for both managers and employees, which has reduced absence overall. It appears to be a firm but fair proactive approach to managing absence, focusing on fitness for work and what the individual can do. This was achieved in a variety of ways to support managers and employees, recognising what caused absence and addressing the barriers (employee and management) through education, timely interventions for specific absences, development of policies, support networks, training and e-health information/education.

Judge: Teresa Harrison, RGN NEBOSH, occupational health nursing manager, Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service (Forge Health).

The AOHNP Occupational Health Nurse of the Year – Sponsored by the Association of Occupational Health Practitioners (UK)

WINNER: Anne Harriss, course director of occupational health programmes and reader in educational development at London South Bank University

What she did: Anne Harriss has educated more than 1,500 occupational health nurses both at the Royal College of Nursing and London South Bank University. Four of these now deliver OH nurse degree programmes while others are in managerial positions. Graduates consistently gain business/professional awards and write for professional publications.

Harriss has supported students with serious illnesses or other personal challenges, including one who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She signed this student’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Good Health and Good Character form for clear professional reasons, although doing so risked her own NMC registration.

She challenged the NMC by ensuring that OHN programmes are fit for purpose, and helped change the rules so that nurses holding recordable OH qualifications could migrate to the NMC Specialist Community Public Health Nursing register. She took the lead in developing a paper for the Council for Work and Health on the challenges of preparing competent OHNs.

Judges’ comments: This practitioner has demonstrated through her submission her dedication to nursing in general, and occupational health nursing in particular. Her lobbying of the NMC has provided an important foundation for nurse education since the migration of OH nurses to the third part of the nurse register. Her creativity in the curriculum and teaching methods she uses have ensured that her students can translate theory into practice with good effect. The introduction of the JISCMail OH online forum and continued support offered to OH nurses on the site has been exemplary.

Judges: Christina Butterworth, RGN OHND PG Dip Health Ed/Health Promo, president, AOHNP (UK); Greta Thornbory, Oxfordshire, TD MSc RGN ROH PGCEA CMIOSH professional development director, AOHNP (UK); Teresa Harrison, RGN NEBOSH, occupational health nursing manager, Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service (Forge Health).

Award for Occupational Health in Construction – Sponsored by Constructing Better Health

WINNER: Balfour Beatty Major Civil Engineering

What they did: Balfour Beatty Major Civil Engineering has an OH business management system in place to address the key OH activities and provide minimum standards for both internal and external providers to work to and exceed. Sites can be geographically challenging and addressing the needs of a largely itinerant and peripatetic workforce can be difficult. Every site has an OH nurse and OH activities are tailored to business needs. Medicals are given to mobile plant operators, those who regularly work at height or individuals referred following comments made in health declaration forms. Health surveillance is arranged for identified individuals.

Impact on the organisation: In 2010, 7,510 individuals were screened pre-placement, 14,187 drug and alcohol screens were done and 745 full medicals were arranged. During one blood-pressure monitoring event, 141 operatives, mainly subcontractors, were screened, with 43% classed as grade 1 and 2 hypertension (as per the World Health Organisation classification). Lifestyle advice was more widely promoted, and employees were encouraged to return for screening and/or see a GP.

Judge’s comments: The submission demonstrates good awareness of the important issues and the essential aspects of worker wellbeing. Setting up an OH working group to identify the relevant issues and plan the activity is an excellent way of improving engagement of all parties and ensuring that all factors are considered. Setting up an OH management system to adopt industry standards such as those at Constructing Better Health allow active and positive control of the health and wellbeing programme. The strategy to make the best use of the on-site OH nurse for not only medical activity but also for health surveillance is a good example for others.

Judge: Dr Geoff Davies, chief medical officer, services, at Kensington Occupational Health Specialists.

Award for Innovation in Occupational Health – Sponsored by Kays Medical

WINNER: London South Bank University Occupational Health Teaching Team

What they did: There has been broad criticism of the failure of OH degree courses accredited by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to meet the requirements for practice. In response, course leader at London South Bank University Anne Harriss developed a more effective portfolio of courses after gaining support from university managers. An innovative portfolio of courses was agreed in February 2011, offering opportunities for shared learning with physiotherapists and occupational therapists rather than the NMC’s focus on shared learning with health visitors and school nurses.

Impact on the organisation: The impact of the change affects OH students and ultimately has the potential to raise the relevance of OH education more generally. Courses validated include a Graduate Certificate/BSc in Workplace Health Management, a Graduate Certificate/BSc (Hons) Workplace Health Management and a PG Dip/BSc (Hons) in Occupational Health Nursing (SCPHN).

Judge’s comments: Changing the focus of an educational programme for the future of occupational health practice heralds a long-awaited improvement to the quality of occupational health training. This innovation includes a degree in workplace health management that enables occupational therapists and physiotherapists to enhance the contribution they can make to the occupational health agenda.

Judge: Joe Patton, occupational health practitioner, Health and Safety Services, Bangor University.

Award for Health Promotion and Wellbeing – Sponsored by XpertHR

WINNER: East Lothian Council

What they did: East Lothian Council’s health and wellbeing strategy covers all 4,300 employees and links into Scotland’s NHS Healthy Working Lives programme. A cross-departmental team of volunteers (including union representation) is supported by a team of “champions” – employees based in each location (more than 180) who promote and support the initiatives. The programme is a radical departure for a local authority (which is traditionally bureaucratic) as it is run “by the staff for the staff”.

Impact on the organisation: Absence has dropped from 5.7% in 2002/03 to 4.8% in 2010/11, while staff turnover has decreased from 12.7% in 2004/05 to 11.8%. In 2007/08, the OH nurse saw 216 staff for blood pressure and cholesterol checks – in 2009/10 this had increased to 360, with 20% of those being referred to their GP for further consultation. In 2003/04, four roadshows were run and in 2010/11 it was 16 with many being requested by employees.

Judge’s comments: East Lothian Council has worked with a limited budget to create a “bottom up” approach to embedding its wellbeing programmes throughout a geographically and culturally diverse organisation. This is now returning tangible benefits in terms of reduced absence levels and staff turnover.

Judge: Dr Mark Simpson, BSc (Hons) MBChB MRCGP DRCOG c.MIOSH FFOM FACOEM.

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