Q What do you think is the role of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) today and how has it changed from the past?
A The FOM serves the public by promoting best practice in occupational health. Historically OH practitioners focused principally on protecting people in the workplace through the identification, assessment and management of health risks and the prevention of accidents. But over the past 50 years our role has progressively evolved.
It used to be that work was regarded as a necessary evil - it was the curse of Adam that you had to go out and earn your crust of bread by the sweat of your brow. But we now recognise that 'good' work can have positive benefits for health and wellbeing, in that it not only provides people with income but also with social contacts, and often with a feeling of worth and 'belonging'.
Occupational health practitioners these days are more and more involved in enabling people to benefit from work, while at the same time ensuring that they do not put themselves or others at unreasonable risk. So there's a major element of balancing risks and benefits, which has to be done fairly and based on best available scientific evidence.
Q How have you responded to the Black Review of the health of the working age population, which will report early this year?
A Dame Carol Black's review of the health of working age people is a major opportunity for us, and we are contributing actively. We need to work effectively with others who share our objectives, and the aims of the review coincide substantially with our own.
One of the things Dame Carol will be thinking about is just what sort of OH provision is now appropriate in the UK, how it should be delivered, and who should be paying for it. That's very much a question on which the FOM wishes to give a lead. Of course, services will only be funded if they are perceived as cost-effective by whoever is paying for them.
An important change over the past 20 years has been the major transition from in-house OH departments to the contracted delivery of occupational health care by large independent external providers. We have suggested to Dame Carol that there is a need to develop standards for OH providers, and this is another area in which I think the FOM should give a lead.