Occupational health profile: Graham Johnson, lead nurse at health clinics, Bupa UK

Health surveillance in the shipbuilding industry provided an opportunity to understand the management of occupational risks

Graham Johnson, lead nurse at Bupa Health Clinics UK, reviews the highlights of his occupational health career. It has embraced a wide range of industries, past and present, and led to his involvement in innovative OH research.

How did you get into OH?

After a brief stint in operating theatres following my nursing qualification, I moved to a role in A&E. It was during this time that I began to take an interest in what we then called “work accidents”.

I vividly recall going to a steel rolling mill, at the invite of the safety officer who was a regular visitor to A&E, accompanying some work colleagues who had suffered a workplace injury. The noise, dust and fumes were fascinating. I remember asking why so many employees appeared to have accidents and was told that it was an accepted aspect of this working environment.

It was with this enquiring mind, and a desire to have an influence on preventative medicine, that I applied and was successful in being appointed as a nursing officer at Imperial Chemicals Industries (ICI) in Teeside.

Who influenced you in your early days?

One of my early influences was my line manager at ICI who encouraged me to undertake my post registration training in OH at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). Other influential people have been my colleagues in the RCN Society for OH Nursing, such as Paul Lloyd, Carol Bannister and Professor Ann Lowis.

What other influences have been important?

During my career, I have been very fortunate to work with some very talented OH professionals, all of whom I have learned from and I have applied their knowledge to my own practice.

I would suggest that the highlight of my career has been the opportunity to support the development of OH nursing during my tenure as chairman of the RCN Forum for OH Nursing. This taught me a lot about the challenges of being an OH nurse and the need to raise our profile as recognised and valuable members of the teams that we work in. It was not without its moments and, at times, was like being a politician.

Curriculum vitae

Professional qualifications

  • 1975: Registered General Nurse
  • 1981: Occupational Health Nursing Certificate
  • 1982: City and Guilds FE Teaching Certificate
  • 2007: Practice teacher, Specialist Community Public Health Nursing (OH)


  • January 2009 to date: Lead nurse, health clinics, UK-wide, Bupa UK
  • May 2005-December 2008: Operations manager, Bupa UK
  • March 1999-May 2005: Head of occupational health services, Interact Health Management
  • 1990-1999: Occupational health manager, University Hospitals Aintree
  • 1988-1990: Occupational health consultant, Bupa Occupational Health
  • 1982-1988: Nursing officer, regional nursing manager, British Shipbuilders
  • 1978-1982: Staff nurse/charge nurse, A&E department
  • 1977-1978: Staff nurse, operating theatres, ICI
  • 1974-1977: Student nurse training, Hartlepool District General Hospital


  • Johnson G (1997). “Time to take the gloves off?” Occupational Health.
  • Johnson G (1998). “Latex allergy: reducing the risks”. Nursing Times; 94, 44, pp.69-70.
  • Johnson G, Haddock D (1999). “The UKCC Code of Conduct: a critical guide”. Nursing Times Books, London pp.169-180.
  • Johnson G (1999). “Changing practice: getting to grips with allergy”.1, pp.3-4.
  • Johnson G (1999). “Avoiding latex allergy”. Nursing Standard; 13, 21, pp.49-56.
  • Johnson G (2000). “Changing practice: glove selection legislative guidance”. 2. pp.4-5
  • Johnson G (2001). “New community pharmacy: Occupational Contact Dermatitis”. 1, 22.
  • Johnson G (2003). “Managing the risk of sickness absence”. Occupational Health.
  • Johnson G (2003). “Risk Management Principles of Latex Sensitisation”. Healthcare Recruitment and Supplies.
  • Johnson G (2005). Safe Glove Use in RCN Learning Zone, Clinical Skills.
  • Johnson G (2006). “Helping hands?” Occupational Health; 58, 1, pp.18-21.
  • Johnson G (2007). “Managing the financial and health risks of exposure to blood borne viruses”. International Hospital Federation Handbook.
  • Johnson G (2008). “Not My Career!” Occupational Health; 60, 1, pp.22
  • Johnson G (2011). “EU Directive on Sharps Injuries: be prepared”. Clinical Services Journal; 60, pp.21-24.
  • Johnson G (2011). “Sharpening your act”. Occupational Health; 63, 6, pp.23-25. RCN (2011). “Guidance lead – roles and responsibilities of occupational health support workers”.
  • Johnson G (2012). “Sharps safety: the legal implications”. Clinical Services Journal; 67, pp.33-38.
  • Johnson G (2012). “Meeting professional standards in nursing and midwifery”. Occupational Health; 64, 11, pp.27-29.

Professional membership/involvement

  • Editorial board member of Occupational Health
  • Former chairman, Royal College of Nursing Society of Occupational Health Nursing.
  • Immediate past secretary to the Nursing Committee of the International Commission on Occupational Health Nursing.
  • Former external examiner of the BSc Honours course in occupational health nursing studies, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.
  • Former member of Health and Safety Commission’s Construction Industry Advisory Committee on Occupational Health (CONIAC).
  • Member of the Law Society Directory of Expert Witnesses.
  • Visiting lecturer, Warwick Medical School and Leeds Metropolitan University.

My time spent in the shipbuilding industry was another influence, where health surveillance for noise and hand-arm vibration provided an excellent opportunity in understanding the management of these occupational risks.

When shipbuilding began to decline, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to design, staff and equip a brand new OH facility for motor manufacturer Nissan at its new plant in Sunderland. This was a chance to have my own department and facility, which included working one Boxing Day with the medical director, conducting pre-employment medicals for senior managers from other car manufacturing plants in the UK, who had been headhunted to join Nissan.

When AIDS and Hepatitis B were frequently in the press, the RCN was invited by a glove manufacturer to look into the incidence and prevalence of sensitisation to natural rubber latex (NRL) among UK healthcare workers. Little did I know what an opportunity this would present, as it resulted in me being invited to prepare and lead on the study, with articles published in the UK nursing press and across Europe and Scandinavia.

The outcome of this prompted the RCN to seek support from the then-NHS supplies team to remove powdered NRL gloves from use across England, resulting in a reduction in the incidence and prevalence of sensitisation to NRL. Publication of the findings gave me opportunities to present the results at seminars, conferences and study days across Europe and further afield.

Continuing professional development (CPD) enabled me to use my skills to become a visiting lecturer at Warwick Medical School and Leeds Beckett University. The increase in healthcare workers seeking redress from their employers for adverse health effects as a direct result of the use of NRL gloves led me to develop my report-writing skills and, following training from the RCN and the Law Society, I became an expert witness, supporting healthcare staff and others who experienced a workplace injury or illness. This was, on reflection, one of the most fulfilling times of my career and one which I look back on with pride.

What are the goals and priorities in your current role?

My OH nursing career of more than 30 years has seen me working mostly in an OH nursing capacity. My current work as lead nurse at Bupa is strategic, varied, diverse and fulfilling, with the support of other subject-matter experts on safeguarding, infection
prevention and control, medicines management, clinical governance, audit, appraisal and supervision.

My OH nursing career of more than 30 years has seen me working mostly in an OH nursing capacity. My current work as lead nurse at Bupa is strategic, varied, diverse and fulfilling, with the support of other subject-matter experts on safeguarding, infection prevention and control, medicines management, clinical governance, audit, appraisal and supervision.

More recently, I have been leading the
Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)
pilot programme for nursing revalidation  across the 5,300-strong Bupa nursing community, following an invitation from the NMC for Bupa to be one of the pilot organisations. The outcome of the pilot will assist us in preparing for its introduction in 2016.

Having the opportunity to work with a talented group of supportive and “can-do” colleagues makes the role easier to cope with, and you learn so much from those people.

What motivates you today?

As an NMC practice teacher, the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience for the development of others gives me a huge amount of personal and professional pleasure. Seeing an individual move from a novice to an experienced OH clinician is so rewarding and this, together with the developing opportunities that exist for our profession, holds good for the future.

What advice would you offer those new to OH or early on in their careers?

Think about the wider picture and the professional support network that is there to help you in your role and to assist you in achieving your personal and professional goals. I do not think there has ever been a better time to be a specialist OH nursing professional.

Take every chance to widen your professional horizons and every opportunity to develop yourself and the profession you represent. Have career aspirations. Decide what you would like to be doing in the next five to 10 years, how you can achieve it and who you need to “link in” to support and assist you to reach that target.

Be mindful of the financial benefits that you bring to employee health and wellbeing by demonstrating, where you can, the return on your investment in the workplace. With nurse revalidation due to be introduced in 2016, the challenge for the profession will be to prepare a portfolio of evidence of CPD to meet the new code. And remember that CPD does not always have to consist of attendance at a conference or study day. Self-directed learning alone, or with others, is acceptable.

Reflective practice has been in the press a lot of late, and it is a key aspect of the evidence that will be required for nurses to demonstrate their learning. Write it down.

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