Career view

Q. Is the use of technicians in occupational health departments increasing, and if so, does it present a threat to OH jobs for nurses?

A. We have seen a definite rise in the use of technicians to carry out specific routine health surveillance.

Some healthcare companies are using mobile units staffed with people competent in audiometry and spirometry to serve their clients. A comprehensive, concise, referral criteria system ensures abnormal screens are reported to an OH adviser (OHA) or physician.

Some of our candidates feel that the opportunity to discuss workplace issues with an experienced registered nurse (RN) or qualified OHA at the point of delivery may be lost. This can be seen as a negative aspect, but it means there is more time within the department to effect change and  concentrate on preventative measures and case management.

Many of our candidates have expressed concerns that medical, sociological, psychological and work-related issues vital to the health and attendance of the individual, may go undetected by a technician who was asked to perform a specific task. This is particularly pertinent for employees who do not regularly use the OH service and perhaps only attend for mandatory routine surveillance.

With modern equipment and concise training, the competency of the task can be regulated easily. The results should be acceptable and easily audited with little risk of non-referral.

Some of our clients have expressed frustration at the standard of feedback from blanket surveillance in terms of a breakdown in trends (without breaching medical confidentiality) per section of a plant or employee group.

Cost also plays a significant part in the delivery of technician-based surveillance. The average salaries, we have seen, are significantly lower than the experienced RN rate by several thousand pounds.

While most clients usually request us to recruit RNs with screening experience, we have been asked during the past two years for three technicians – one of whom was required to have a first aid at work qualification to carry out a dual role in a manufacturing setting.

The skills mix within OH departments is a considerable budgetary and operational consideration.

Increasingly, where a team exists and good support mechanisms are in place, practical tasks are being given to juniors or technicians.

In short, we do not feel that technicians are a threat to potential OH jobs for qualified practitioners, but the market may grow in the future thus reducing screening roles.

Q. Are clients leaning towards self-employed practitioners?

A. Some clients are willing to employ occupational health practitioners working on a self-employed status, but they are in a minority as far as our company placements are concerned.

The obvious head-count advantages to keep shareholders happy, and disguise costs, spring to mind, plus savings on a benefits package.

For the self-employed practitioner, the operating costs, with sound financial advice, can be favourable, and the daily or hourly rates and task-based projects suit the self-employed too.

Sue Lamb

Sue Lamb is recruitment and development director for OH Recruitment. She has extensive OH nursing experience within the pharmaceutical, agrochemical, mining, and manufacturing work sectors.

Having dedicated her career to this specialist area of recruitment, focusing on OH physicians and nurses for more than 10 years, Lamb is highly knowledgeable on the issues facing jobseekers in this field.

Also familiar with a breadth of work settings that use OH professionals, Lamb is conversant with the many concerns facing candidates in a highly-competitive job market. She leads a team of highly-skilled professional recruiters and is a well-known and respected OH professional.

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