The government will later this year be asked to decide whether to fund a national roll-out of two-day workplace health training programmes for health and safety professionals.
An Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IoSH) pilot project, backed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has been running in Leicestershire this year, and its results are to be submitted to ministers and officials at the end of the year.
If it is given the go-ahead, the programme would offer the IoSH’s 35,000 members access to training in how better to identify ill-health in the workplace, strategies to support workers to stay at work rather than take time off sick, and ways to help them return to work after a period of absence.
A workshop held in September to discuss the progress of the pilot scheme was attended by leading occupational health figures, including the Royal College of Nursing’s Cynthia Atwell, Theresa Harrison from the Association of Occupational Health Nursing Practitioners and the DWP’s chief medical officer Dr Bill Gunnyeon.
“We need to help people back into work and into similar jobs to those they left. We want to work to a point where people see it as an everyday, sensible necessity to provide support and adaptations for people returning to work,” said Gunnyeon.
IoSH chief executive Nattasha Freeman stressed to Occupational Health that the training would not mean health and safety professionals setting themselves up as alternatives to OH, but rather, they would act in support of OH and other clinicians.
The shortness of the course meant it could also be targeted at small and medium-sized organisations (SMEs), Freeman suggested.
“If we can recognise things earlier, we may be able to help to stop more people falling out of work,” she said.
Occupational health nurses had little to fear from such forms of collaborative working, as long as the boundaries are clearly set and communicated, agreed Gail Cotton, head of occupational health and safety services at Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service.
“People do have to be realistic that there are not enough nurses to go around and if health issues can be identified earlier in this way, then that is all to the good,” she said.