Interview: Diana Kloss, chair, Council for Work and Health

What is the Council for Work and Health?

The Council for Work and Health had its first full meeting in October 2009. It was created as a result of one of the recommendations of Dame Carol Black’s Review of the health of Britain’s working-age population, published in March 2008. The government’s response, Improving Health and Work, was published in November 2008. In chapter two, it states it has a commitment to support a representative group of professional bodies who plan to create a co-­ordinating council for all the professions concerned with the provision of occupational health (OH) services. The initial aims of this multi-disciplinary representative group of professional bodies are to:

  • explore methods of joint working, including co-ordination of training and competency; and

  • develop evidence-based guidelines and standards.

The government response states: “This ensures that each professional group working to improve the health of the working population adopts these and works consistently to agreed evidence-based advice on key issues. It will facilitate the sharing of skills and expertise by gaining consensus and agreement across the professions and practitioner communities for core content for education and training in health, work and wellbeing issues”.

Why was the name changed from the original ‘Council for Occupational Health’?

The original suggestion was that the council be known as the Council for Occupational Health, but the representatives decided this did not fully reflect its functions, given that it also includes delegates from the Royal College of General Practitioners, organisations representing health and safety practitioners, and an observer from the Health and Safety Executive.

What are the council’s objectives?

The council’s guiding mission will be to ensure that people have the best opportunities to benefit from the positive health impacts of employment, and that they are not injured or made ill by the work they undertake. To this end, it will aim to provide necessary support to maximise opportunities for individuals to access, retain or regain employment, prevent health conditions caused or made worse by work and the working environment, and promote the improvement of the health and wellbeing of the working population.

Which organisations are represented on the council?

At the meeting in October, the following organisations were represented:

Dame Carol Black was also present and the meeting was chaired by me [Diana Kloss, barrister and expert in occupational health law]. Representatives of other organisations are expected to attend the next meeting in March 2010.

Why were you chosen to chair the new council?

I was chosen as the independent chair because I’m not a health professional, but I’m well-known to the profession as an author and lecturer, having been involved in training and advising doctors, nurses, hygienists, safety advisers and others through my work in the University of Manchester’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, and with the At Work Partnership.

I have also been a non-executive director of a primary care trust, a member of the expert advisory group on AIDS and the UK panel for healthcare workers with blood-borne viruses, and I’m currently a member of the CJD incidents committee and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. In 2009, I was awarded the MBE for services to OH.

How will the council be funded?

Funding is being provided temporarily through NHS Plus on a temporary basis, but clearly it will be necessary to ensure that more permanent arrangements are made to provide a secretary and an office base. It is planned that the council will meet three or four times a year, and that most of the projects will be undertaken by small sub-committees reporting to it. A project is already up and running to investigate the training of OH nurses and to make suggestions for possible reform.

The organisations plan to create a document which can be displayed on the council’s website (currently being prepared) setting out the various professions which are involved in the provision of services, and how their members can assist both employers and workers. Consideration will be given to the needs of the working population that will be around in 10 years’ time, and it has been suggested that the council sponsors a project on the health and safety implications of the employment of older workers.

The council intends to be both reactive, representing the professions in dealings with governments and stakeholders, and proactive, sponsoring initiatives to further its mission.

Practitioners with suggestions for future projects should contact the representative from their professional organisation or the Council for Work and Health directly through the secretary:

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