‘Attending Formula One races is something I never imagined I would be doing as an OH nurse’

Su Chantry (pre-Covid, and standing at back) conducting a hearing test at Williams

Starting a new occasional series where we profile the day-to-day work of OH practitioners, we go behind the scenes with Su Chantry, occupational health manager at Formula One team Williams Grand Prix Engineering.

Tell us about your role?

For the past three years I have been occupational health manager at Williams Grand Prix Engineering. It’s an in-house role, uniquely for Formula One as all the other OH services within the sector are contracted to providers.

About Su Chantry

Su Chantry is occupational health manager at Williams Grand Prix Engineering. She is also on the education committee of the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing

I support 800 permanent staff, increasing to more than 1,000 during the production season. I am responsible for health surveillance management of the factory production and race teams. I also oversee risk assessment policies, make sure Health and Safety Executive legislation is complied with and simply ensure employees are kept safe in the workplace.

Given the global nature of our industry, managing the travel health of all race staff (Formula E and Formula 1) is an another important element of my role. This includes travel health risk assessments, immunisations, Zika blood tests, consular updates and so on. Because of the diversity of job roles, there can also be a fair bit of complex case management, especially around sickness absence.

Leadership, including strategic planning and delivery of health and wellbeing within the organisation, is a further important aspect of what I do. This has included planning and implementing stress management training, ergonomic assessment of car production tasks, infection control in factory and at track, mental health activities, health awareness campaigns, working with a sports therapist to deliver musculoskeletal risk management in race team pit stops and developing a targeted cost-saving strategy in relation to business needs and the health of the workforce.

Finally, I am also a practice teacher and supervise students on placement.

How did you come into occupational health?

I started out as a midwife but, as a single mum of three children, I wasn’t able to carry on with shifts. I then became a practice nurse in general practice, after which I was recruited by a provider who needed an OH nurse for a new local contract, initially in screening and introducing surveillance and, as I became more experienced, case management.

This led to me working across a range of multi-faceted industries (nuclear, police, oil and gas as well as an NHS community trust) as part of contracts managed by the service provider before eventually coming to Williams.

What are the most common occupational health concerns/challenges that you face in your role?
For me, it is about managing the unique challenges of motor sport culture; you always have to look and plan ahead. At a practical level, you can often be working across different time zones, as race travel personnel are often away all over the globe.

Mental health management within motorsport remains a big challenge – there can be a lot of cultural barriers and stigma associated with mental health issues within this sport, although this is gradually beginning to change, and I am proud OH is part of that change.

The fact my role is a lone in-house one means there can sometimes be challenges around confidentiality. For example, I am the only clinical role in the business and my manager is an HR director rather than a clinician.

Describe for me an “average” day?

There is no average day in motorsport! It’s very much about being able to plan for and react to things, and to be able to think outside the box. For example, you have to do race travel research one week prior to every race (and there are 21 races per season).

You have to consider things such as who is travelling and whether there will be any health issues at track. I have to work with the F1 medical team and disseminate communication and/or health alerts to all staff. I’ll also run travel health and immunisation clinics as and when needed.

With the factory, day-to-day tasks can include meeting with production managers about any concerns and running seminars or workshops around areas such as stress awareness, managing absence and how to make OH referrals.

I’ll often be working closely with HR on referrals, triage, case management and reporting. Other times I’ll be interpreting and reporting health surveillance results.

Then there is the managerial side of things, so procurement, budgets, project planning, board reports, wellbeing event planning and so on, as well as spending time on student clinical supervision.

What would you say are the best/worst elements of your role?

The best is having the autonomy to deliver optimum occupational health and wellbeing to a unique variety of the people working in multi-faceted roles. Another positive is having a voice to represent OH positively; and OH being given the credibility by motorsport to impact on the wellbeing strategy.

The worst element is probably the fact mine is a standalone role with a very high workload. In-house OH nursing can be hard without a clinical team to support you. To counteract that, I have ensured I do have regular clinical supervision with a respected independent colleague.

What has been one of the most unusual/memorable moments in your career (either current role or a previous one)?

Probably my proudest or most memorable moments have been gaining a first class honours SCPHN in my OH degree and being made a Queen’s Nurse in 2016.

Other highlights have included seeing my first published article in print and registering my own OH business as a limited company at Companies House.

Undertaking an OH risk assessment and working track-side at my first-ever Formula One race Mexico was also quite an eye-opener! Attending Formula One and Formula E races and advising on things like pit stops is something I never imagined I would be doing as an OH nurse.

Any advice or tips for surviving/thriving as a successful OH practitioner?

  1. Be flexible.
  2. Know your workforce. Be interested in the work they do, and get out and see what they do.
  3. Be active in promoting good OH practice in the work setting. This, I would argue, is key for the future of good OH delivery.
  4. Keep up to date, keep researching, keep learning and keep positive. Occupational health is such a broad spectrum nursing role that the opportunities are endless.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your young OH self?

I was a single mum of three under-threes when I started in OH nursing. If you would have said to me at the time that in 13 years I would be running my own OH business and be manager of an occupational health department in a Formula One racing team I would never have believed I was capable of that.

So my advice would have been simple: “Believe in, and be passionate about, this fantastic nursing specialty.”

What’s your day like?

Would you like to have your “Day in the life” profiled within Occupational Health & Wellbeing? Drop a line to the editor at [email protected] to find out more.

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