OH nurses across EU urged to take lead on workplace health
Occupational health nurses were urged to unite across Europe to seize a leading role in workplace health against a backdrop of tough challenges in many countries at last month’s Congress of the Federation of Occupational Health Nurses in the European Union (FOHNEU).
FOHNEU president Julie Staun said that OH nurse practitioners were the best placed group to lead the European Commission’s (EC) health and safety strategy, launched in February this year.
“This requires bridging the gap from theory to practice, and promoting the empowerment of the workforce,” Staun told delegates. “As the largest single group of professionals in the field, occupational health nurses are in a pivotal position to ensure this is implemented.”
Keynote speaker Dr Francisco Jesús Alvarez Hidalgo, principal administrator at the EC’s health and safety unit, stressed the role of OH in the European Union’s (EU) Lisbon Strategy to boost European competitiveness. He emphasised the importance of providing services to small and medium-sized enterprises and developing national strategies. He also said the framework health and safety directive would improve access to occupational health services.
Staun said the requirement in the directive for ‘competent practitioners’ should put OH nurses in the driving seat in extending OH services to workers across the EU.
She told delegates that FOHNEU had a “solid platform” in the main EU bodies, including the EC, the EU Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the EU Foundation , and the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH).
Online masters course launched for EU OHNs
A new online masters course for OH nurses across Europe was launched at the FOHNEU congress.
The MMedSci in OH nursing has been developed by the University of Sheffield in partnership with academic bodies across Europe, and will allow qualified OH nurses to study in their own time supported by an online tutor.
The organisers say the course will be completed in three to five years. The first programme begins in September 2008.
Jan Maw, nursing lecturer at Sheffield, said: “The evidence is based on reflective and evidence-based practice. Fundamentally, it is about looking at practice and taking it forward.”
Some UK practitioners have expressed concerns that the course is not accredited by the Nursing and Midwifery Council because it needed to be applicable to practice and regulations in all EU countries.
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“It’s something I’ve been looking for for a long time. It’s accessible because not everyone can get time off work to go to courses. It helps me with my work-life balance, and it will be less stressful because I’ll be in control. It is accessible to people who might not be able to get funding from their employers. It’s totally occupational health, so you don’t have to squeeze it around the focus of other disciplines.”
Jane Ingham, HM Prison Service
“The course is really well thought-out with reflective thinking, good pedagogy, and it gives a global view of the big problems related to workplaces. The final dissertation is very interesting – linked to an industry where the student works. One problem is the language – it is all in English, and there are not so many references to theoretical research in European countries.”
Marianne Sereda, OH nurse and teacher, Haute Ecole de la Santé, Lausanne, Switzerland
- “OH should not be used to unwrangle all sorts of grievances in the workplace or domestic or social problems – let’s get back to what OH was trained to do, and deal with health at work,” said Mary McFadzean, director of MMC Absence and Health, in a talk on absence management.
- Professor Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work, asked whether the current approach to workplace health was too narrow. Announcing a national review of workplace health, she asked delegates to submit their views on how to maximise the opportunity offered by the workplace to provide health promotion and lifestyle advice.
- Legislation introduced in 2005 in the Netherlands has been ‘disastrous’ for OH nurse practitioners, Susan Kamerling, a Dutch OH nurse, told delegates. The law requires employers to employ risk managers, but does not stipulate that they should be OH nurses. Kamerling said many nurses had lost their jobs as a result, while others were forced into a narrow role focusing on absence and return-to-work interventions.
- A survey of OH nursing in the Republic of Ireland showed that practitioners were hampered by low expectations among employers, lack of legislation governing OH services, and concerns about the relevance of OH education. “There’s a need to look at the OH nurse in the multi-disciplinary team moving forward,” said Patricia English, of University College Cork, Ireland.
The Federation of Occupational Health Nurses within the European Union (FOHNEU) aims to raise awareness of research, and liaises with EU policy experts to promote occupational health nursing within the EU.
Delegates from 18 countries attended this year’s congress in London, which was supported by UK partners the RCN OHMF, the RCN OH Forum Scotland and the RCN OH Forum NI.