Ask OH: first aid, drug and alcohol testing and tax relief on clothes for nurses


This month’s “Ask OH” column looks at dilemmas about whether to provide first aid training and drug and alcohol testing, and an enquiry about whether or not nurses can claim back tax on clothing.

Dear OH,

My company used to outsource first aid training to the Red Cross but now they are asking me to provide it. Can I do this and, if I can, where do I start?

Dear reader,

My first thoughts are that I always look at the advantages versus the disadvantages of extending the service you provide. So, if you have spare resource time (and most of us do not) then it is possible to deliver first aid, subject to having the appropriate training. But in my experience what starts as a good idea can become a nightmare as the employer or contractor may then want you to manage the rotas and the administration that goes with this. This then eats into the time spent on occupational health delivery and that is your primary role.

Before October 2013 only approved Health and Safety Executive (HSE) trainers were authorised to provide first aid training but since then anyone can. If you work in isolation do you feel you will be able to keep up to date with changes to the delivery of first aid? As we work to competencies, how will you justify that you are competent?

Here is a link to the HSE with their recommendations. And here is a link to the emerging First Aid Industry Body that is looking to establish credible trainers. I think we have more important aspects of our role to focus on than first aid and I would consider recommending that the health and safety manager takes responsibility.

Dear OH,

My organisation wants to introduce a drugs and alcohol policy and has asked me to be involved. I am concerned it will affect my relationship with employees. How should I manage this?

Dear reader,

Yes, this is always tricky as you do not want to be used as a stick with which to beat employees. I would suggest that you advise the business that you are happy to be part of the initial focus group on the policy and that the best role you can provide is health education to employees as part of their health and wellbeing. If you are working in the business and provide a full OH service then you should explain that if they want you to do testing it could disengage the employees from OH and actually be a step
backwards. Also, the business should consider what the purpose of having a drugs and alcohol policy is and the pros and cons of adopting one.

Advise the employer that they can gain great advice and policy training from an expert such as Helen Vangikar and that it is important that their policy is based on the specific needs and risks of their business. It should not just adopt one found on the internet. There is a risk it will not add value and could be more detrimental than taking a little time and effort to get it right.

I would shy away from you testing and get them to outsource this. If you are an independent OH provider, being asked to come in and deliver testing is a whole different ball game as you are focusing only on this service. But again I would make sure I was fully current on policy development and my competency to test was up to date.

Dear OH,

I have heard that nurses can claim some form of tax relief for clothing. Can OH advisers claim it?

Dear reader,

Yes you can. Under HMRC rules you are able to claim tax relief on a number of items that relate to your profession. The information you need can be found here.

It is worth noting that, apart from claiming for the current year, you can also claim for up to four previous years. However, not all the items that nurses can claim for are relevant to you as an OH adviser. For example, you can claim if you wear a uniform at work, but many of us avoid them like the plague – instead, you could also claim for your tights and shoes.

You can also claim tax relief on your Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) registration, and your Royal College of Nursing (RCN) membership fees. I would even try to claim for the Occupational Health journal as it is the relevant journal for your specialism, perhaps adding a covering letter to explain that.

To make a claim you will need you tax reference number which your finance department can provide (it is sometimes printed on payslips). To find out what you have paid for the past five years, you can ring the RCN and quote your membership number. The amount varies depending on whether you pay by direct debit or annually, and when you started to subscribe. The NMC fee, for example, has been £100 since 2013 and was £76 for the three previous years.

It takes no more than 10 minutes to complete the form and pop it in an envelope and you could, if you are claiming multiple years, get up to £500 back. It might be the best 10 minutes’ work you ever do.

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