Establishing a successful occupational health group

How do you set up a local occupational health group and what are the benefits? Liz Donaghy shares the experiences of the Leicestershire Occupational Health and Safety Advisors Group.

Around 18 months ago, I looked around my home county of Leicestershire for an OH group to join. There were several in the East Midlands area, but no group existed in Leicestershire – although one had been disbanded several years ago. As OH nurse adviser Diane Romano-Woodward and I were both keen to restart it, we decided to form the Leicestershire Occupational Health and Safety Advisors Group.

I had been actively involved with a number of OH groups, including the sponsoring of food and refreshments at several meetings of well-established groups in Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire, and know how important sponsorship can be in getting an OH group started.

As I have worked as a business development manager for medical products provider Kays Medical for more than seven years, I asked the company if they would be interested in sponsoring the group.

For a group to be successful, it needs an enthusiastic administrator.” Liz Donaghy

You need to be clear about who you are targeting when you set up the group. The Leicestershire Occupational Health and Safety Advisors Group welcomes members involved in OH and health and safety, as well as anyone with a general interest in the topics presented. The group meets four times a year in the Leicestershire area and membership is free. This is an opportunity for people to get free continuing professional development and to document and reflect on what they have learned.

Building up membership requires good record keeping. One of my roles within the group is collating the contact details of members and informing them of upcoming meetings. Membership has steadily built up over the past 18 months. There are currently 83 members, and regular meeting reminders are sent to achieve an average attendance of 20 people each meeting. Ensuring relevance

Collaboration between OH specialists and sponsors or other partners can ensure that meetings are well organised and that speakers appeal to the OH community. I do not have any qualifications in OH as my job involves selling equipment and medical supplies, so I am not always the best person to source speakers on relevant topics. This is where Diane and the group members have a key role.

Another important consideration is ensuring the speakers are relevant. As the group becomes more established, it is increasingly approached by potential speakers offering to present. Diane advises on whether or not the presentations would suit the requirements of the group. Members also inform me of any presentations they have attended that they think the group would also benefit from seeing.

For a group to be successful, it needs an energetic administrator. In our case, I take responsibility for contacting speakers to see if they are willing to present. The speakers throughout 2012 and those booked for 2013 have been supportive of the group and very generous with their time. The only cost has been the speakers’ travel expenses.

Keeping costs down for the group is also essential, as there is no charge for membership. Ideally, we don’t want to pay to hire a room for meetings, as this can have a dramatic impact on the sponsorship money.

Group members have helped out where they can – many have volunteered a room in their workplace free of charge to hold a meeting.

Kays Medical has also been supportive of the group, providing money for speakers’ expenses, food and refreshments for members, which has been beneficial for the company as it provides an opportunity to network with existing customers and create new relationships.

We raise awareness of the group in a number of ways, including word of mouth. We also make use of social networking sites to promote the events and help members of the group to network:

  • LinkedIn: We have our own page on the site and you can find us by searching for “Leicestershire Occupational Health and Safety Advisors Group”. We use this page to let our members know of future meetings. Members can also start discussions and post relevant information to the group.
  • Facebook: You can find us on the Kays Medical Facebook page.

One of the main purposes of our group is to share information with each other, and although this group is based in Leicestershire you don’t have to be based in the county to attend our meetings.

We have many members who travel from outside Leicestershire, and I regularly keep in contact with other OH groups in Northampton and Nottingham so they can share our meeting dates and information with their members and vice versa.

Group speakers

Among our speakers in 2012 were: Enviroderm’s Chris Packham, speaking on skin health surveillance; Anthony Hubbard from Skcin, the Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity, speaking about skin cancer; employment liaison officer Yvonne Clarke from Alcoholics Anonymous; safety and compliance manager Owen Donnelly from Western Areas NL (Forrestania Nickel Project) on OH in Australia; cardiac rehabilitation nurses from Leicester hospitals on heart disease management and Steve Jelfs from Cardiac Science Automated on external defibrillators in the workplace; and Stuart Biddle, professor of physical activity and health at Loughborough University, on why moving more and sitting less is good for your health.

If you are interested in attending any future meetings contact Liz Donaghy on 07974 352 823

Diane Romano-Woodward is an OH nurse adviser at Sunny Blue Sky Ltd

Ten top tips for a thriving local OH group
1. See if you can find a sponsor to collaborate on funding and organisation.2. Learn from the experience of other OH local groups and network with them.

3. Identify the benefits for members and promote them.

4. Collate contact details of members and keep them up to date.

5. Involve specialist OH practitioners to advise on topics and speakers.

6. Communicate regularly with members so they are aware of meetings and events.

7. Encourage members to make suggestions about potential speakers.

8. Keep costs down by getting members to help out when running events.

9. Use social media to raise awareness of the group and encourage networking.

10. Open up meetings to practitioners outside the geographical area.

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