Across the border

A new research programme is aiming to identify the training and practices
linked to the OH nursing profession in Scotland – and you could help develop
the survey.  By Dr Bernice West

The confusing boundary between the role of the nurse and the role of the
doctor is especially acute in OH practice. But over the last five years nurses
have voiced concern in professional literature about a lack of definition of
nursing roles in general.

The plethora of titles used in practice, emphasis on public health and
general reluctance to distinguish or appropriately remunerate levels of
practitioners have led to confusion over the roles of nurses in specialisms
like OH. This diffuse picture has evolved since the UKCC published The future
of professional practice – standards for education and practice following
registration1 six years ago. It set out a structure for nurses to progress from
professional to specialist and to advanced practitioner according to expertise
and qualifications.

As smoke-stack industries have declined in Scotland and it has become more
integrated into the wider European context, so the practice of OH nursing has
expanded in the last decade2.

It has traditionally been considered a specialist area, but in recent years
there have been moves for it to be incorporated into primary care and public
health3. The role has developed immensely, yet in UK literature there is little
systematic evidence of the scope of practice.

New research

A research project funded by the National Board for Nursing Midwifery and
Health Visiting (Scotland) aims to survey a large number of OH nurses working
in industries and the public sector across Scotland and its offshore waters.
Its objectives are:

– To identify the educational background and preparation of OH nurses
currently practising in Scotland

– To explore the suitability of their educational preparation for practice

– To articulate the scope of their professional practice

– To describe the range of job titles currently deployed

– To identify the continuing professional development requirements

– To identify areas for practice and professional development.

A preliminary search of the literature and three focus group interviews have
been carried out. Comparable previous survey research has been evaluated along
with theoretical literature on the range and scope of OH nursing. The strengths
of the research lie in the specification of nursing activities in OH. The
weaknesses are in the inability to make substantial inferences from the

It appears the application of prior research to informing education and
practice has been limited. The current researchers are concerned to avoid the
same mistakes and are seeking assistance from the profession through focus group
discussions, local networks.

Consulting the profession

In research there are always problems about sampling. In this project
finding OH nurses is a major challenge to us. A presentation about designing
this research and the general need for research in OH nursing will be made at
the conference of the RCN OH Nurses Forum (Scotland) in Glasgow this month. We
hope to raise awareness of research in general and encourage participation in
this project. We will be asking for volunteers to carry out a critical review
of our questionnaire. It is important that since we have this opportunity to
find out about the scope of practice in OH nursing that we ask the right

Dr Bernice JMWest is director of Centre Nurse Practice Research and
Development at the Robert Gordon University School of Nursing and Midwifery,


1 UKCC,1994, The council’s standards for education and practice following
registration. UKCC London

2 Pickvance S (1996) Towards multidisciplinary prevention services. OH
Review, Sept/Oct

3 Shipley P (1996) OH outside the factory gate. OH Review, May/June

Comments are closed.