How JISCMail can improve your occupational health practice

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Whether you are a student or a professional, the academic online forum JISCMail can provide answers to all kinds of occupational health questions. Diane Romano-Woodward explains how the system works, user etiquette and how to join.

Have you ever heard colleagues refer to answers to questions they had seen posted on the OH online educational ­forum JISCMail and wondered what the forum is about? JISCMail is a ­national academic mailing service, facilitating discussion, ­collaboration and communication within the UK academic community.

At the last count there were 8,885 different JISCMail groups, which can also be referred to as lists, mailing lists or communities. The purpose of groups is to educate their members on the group’s topic.

The OH (OCC-HEALTH) group has approximately 1,000 members from all over the world, who support each other with practical ­advice about anything they come across in their working life.

The topics may be difficult cases, advice on modification for those with a disability, or more personal requests – usually from students – such as ideas for work experience placements, educational visits and activities relevant to practice.

The group members are very generous with sharing policies, procedures, standard forms and PowerPoint presentations. They also act as a resource for useful websites.

The way it works is that to pose a question, you send an email, which goes out to all group members.

Then anyone within the group with relevant advice or information responds by sending information to the group in another email.

Sometimes several answers are sent and, as some members monitor their emails frequently, often ­answers can be received within hours or minutes of posting.

This is of particular benefit to those working in isolation in OH or those without easy access to more experienced colleagues. However, there are many members who rarely post or answer questions, but instead learn by observation. These “lurkers” are welcome too.

JISCMail aims
Our aims are to support topical discussion, wide collaboration and rapid communications, providing a means to:

  • share experiences;
  • enhance collaboration;
  • keep in touch with peers;
  • aid research;
  • keep up to date with advancements in your field;
  • make new contacts; and
  • announce events.

The group is moderated by Anne Harriss, reader and course director of the OH courses at London South Bank University, and Dr Kevin Maguire, senior lecturer in ­psychology at Nottingham Trent University. They can remove members who make inappropriate posts and may comment on posts to ensure they remain suitable for the core function of providing education.

How to join

There are several ways to join. The easiest way is to go to the OCC-HEALTH group’s homepage, where you will see the following text: “Occ-health is a list open to everyone with an interest in teaching, learning and research in occupational health and safety. As it is a publicly funded list, recruitment using the list is not allowed (this ­includes agencies and employers).”

In the top left corner you will see a button that says “subscribe or unsubscribe”. To subscribe, fill in your name and email address. Initially it would be better to change the setting to “digest” as then you will receive only one mail per day with all the postings. ­

Occasionally, if there has been a lot of activity, you may get more than one digest. This overcomes the problems many have had in the past of multiple emails arriving in your inbox about topics that are not of interest to you personally.

If you are going away, you can suspend the digests. You can do this in two ways. The first is by going to the homepage of your group. Choose “subscribe or unsubscribe” and tick/untick the “nomail” checkbox within your subscription. Alternatively, you can send an email to listserv@JISCMail.ac.uk with “set * nomail” as the subject, and when you receive a reply, send “set * mail”.

There are ways of posing a question that are more likely to get a good response from others. It is usually advisable – at the very least – to have done an internet search on the topic before you post.

Be specific about what assistance or advice you need and tell the group what you have done so far in trying to solve the problem or access information. There is a fine line between “not wanting to re-invent the wheel” and simply wanting to plagiarise others’ work.

Requests for information where you have clearly not done any ground work are not likely to get an enthusiastic response.

If you are a student seeking a work placement, mention your reason for going into OH and what transferable skills you have – for example, training in giving vaccinations, venepuncture or spirometry skills. You may also indicate what geographical areas you would consider.

If someone offers an attachment, such as a policy or PowerPoint presentation, avoid sending a “send it to me too” request to all 1,000 members. Copy and paste the email address of the person who offered it and send it to them individually.

Those who offer items – and we are very grateful for this – can assist by putting their email address clearly in the text and inviting those who would like the item to contact them “off list”.

Be careful about posting or requesting financial information. The sharing of fee structures has previously alarmed some in the commercial sector for whom such ­information is highly sensitive. Others have taken the opposite view, in that sharing ­financial information on an open forum could be seen as anti-competitive by the Office of Fair Trading if it ever decided to take a look.

Think carefully about whether what you are posting really needs to be seen by all the people in the group. Consider sending an individual response to the poster.

Other related JISC groups
HEOHPS: OH physicians and practitioners in higher education.MRO-Forum: for those with an interest in drug and alcohol screening and acting as medical review officers.

OCCENVMED: Occupational and Environmental Medicine and Occupational Health.

ERGONOMICS: to promote discussion among practitioners and researchers in the field of ergonomics and human factors.

Remember that this is a public group and what you post is available for all to see. If you are using a work email address and posting for advice about a challenging case, make sure the person concerned cannot be identified.

Keep any details brief, but do include details of the job role or activities.

Try to avoid hitting “reply” when ­responding, as then the whole of the questioner’s post will be repeated many times in the digest. Copy and paste the subject heading and add your information in the text, along with part of the question if it would add clarity.

The purpose of the group is to exchange educational information and it is not a ­general chat room. So keep the content ­factual and do not post humorous material or amusing photographs.

There is an associated Facebook group, UK Occupational Health Practitioners, where more light-hearted and commercial activities such as details of courses and job opportunities can be posted.

Finally, there is also an archive of all previous postings by date, which can be ­accessed from the OCC-HEALTH page using the search box.

If you are not already a member, why not join to receive the daily digest? It is free, and you will certainly be informed and educated; and if you ask a question, you will feel supported.

Diane Romano-Woodward RN SCPHN-OH BSc M Med Sc (Occ Health) is director of Sunny Blue Sky.

JISCMail etiquette
Respect copyright when forwarding messages – if in doubt, check with the author.Respect people’s privacy – do not give out the private email addresses or contact details of others.

Think before cross-posting – some people belong to more than one list.

Do not call someone names or be rude, sarcastic or condescending.

Watch where that reply is going – should it go to the whole list or just to the original sender?

Send your commands to the correct address: listserv@JISCMail.ac.uk

Make sure your email address is correct.

Complain to the list owner, not the list.

Suspend mail when going away – you can always catch up via the archives.

Avoid sending large attachments to JISCMail lists – use the files area associated with your list.

Use a meaningful subject line – it will increase the chances of your message being read and found within the list archives.

Write relevant messages appropriate to the purpose of the list.

Do not quote an entire message when replying, as this leads to very long messages.

Keep your lines short and do not send long messages – waffle is off-putting.

Use a short, well-designed signature.

Only use ASCII (plain) text – for instance, do not use pound (£) signs.

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