Occupational health profile: Jane Fairburn, managing director of People Asset Management

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Occupational health nurse adviser Jane Fairburn talks about her long career in OH that has led to her forming her own business, and performing important roles in the Safe, Effective, Quality Occupational Health Service (SEQOHS) and the development of a Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing.

How did you get into OH?

I entered OH pretty much by default after taking a career break for four years following maternity leave, and have never looked back. Having worked in “casualty”, as it was then, I developed a real curiosity about people and how their life events, both self-governed choices and a lack of options, brought them to the unit.

My career began with a part-time screening role at the British Coal Corporation, which was the National Coal Board until 1987. My primary role there was to screen the mines rescue service personnel who required fitness testing on a treadmill. This was at a time when colliery accidents were still commonplace, with a high risk of serious injury and fatality and so the “rescue teams” were critical to the industry, as was their fitness.

Curriculum Vitae

Education

  • Registered General Nurse and addition to the UKCC Register
  • Occupational Health Nursing Certificate (Credit)
  • Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
  • Diploma in Occupational Health
  • Certificate in Travel Health
  • BSc (Hons) Health Studies (OH)
  • Higher Professional Diploma in Employment Law

Work

  • 2004 to date: Founder and managing director of People Asset Management
  • 1999-2004: Regional Occupational Health Officer, Wincanton Logistics
  • 1993-1999: Senior occupational health adviser, ICI Chemicals & Polymer
  • 1992-1993: Occupational health adviser, Treasury Department, Civil Service Occupational Health Service
  • 1985-1992: Occupational health screening nurse, British Coal Corporation
  • 1978-1981: Staff nurse, Accident and Emergency Department, Leigh Infirmary
  • 1975-1978: Student nurse, Wigan & Leigh Infirmaries
  • 1974: Nursing cadet, Leigh Infirmary

Professional activities

  • Regional director for newly formed Association of OH Practitioners
  • Assessor for Royal College of Physicians Quality Scheme (SEQOHS)
  • SEQOHS quality improvement adviser
  • Steering Group board member for SEQOHS Accreditation Scheme
  • Member of the development group for a new initiative to develop a Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing
  • 2013: Appointed to the bench as a justice of the peace
  • 2014: Appointed as a trustee to the board of the St Helen’s Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Clinical Governance Supervisor

Publications:

  • “Development of OH Management
    Model”, Occupational Health, April, May, June 1994
  • “Travel Audit”, Occupational Health, August 1995
  • “Healthy exchange”, Occupational Health, October 1998
  • “Surfing the learning curve”, Occupational Health, April 1999
  • “Managing internationally mobile employees”, Croner CCH Group, June 2000
  • “Working with denial”, Occupational Health, December 2006
  • “Assessing the assessment process”, Occupational Health, December 2010
  • “Illness deception”, Occupational Health, July 2012

After this role, I progressed to a colliery to be a full-time sister in the medical centre and I was fortunate to be funded through my studies for the OH Nursing Certificate (OHNC). As part of the course, I wrote a dissertation on the impact of business change at that time, inspired by my experience in the rapidly changing coal industry and also the ideas of management philosopher Charles Handy. I was particularly interested in the proposition that even unexpected, radical change could be seen as a possible opportunity.

Who influenced you in your early days?

An early influence was a colleague in my first role. The mines rescue superintendent, Les Hampson, was an amazing source of information about the history of mining and the management of severe underground accidents. He helped me decide what to talk about for my first OHNC presentation to my peers, by teaching me how to prepare a stretcher. They were as fascinated as I had been to see why it was so important to do this task properly.

Another key influence was Jackie Collins, my first OH tutor. I later followed her to Sheffield to complete the OH Diploma and then to Wolverhampton to take a BSc in Health Studies (OH). She encouraged me to be the best I can be, to always provide quality and to reflect constantly on my professional life in order to improve.

What other influences have been important?

I became a regional director in the early days of the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (UK) and I wrote articles for Occupational Health and Croner in the early 1990s.

In terms of development, when the Travel Health Certificate was developed, I completed this with funding from my then-employer ICI, and took part in an exchange visit with two OH nurses who were working for ICI Australia. Our mission was to compare practice between the two countries and develop a “best way” for travel health policies and procedures.

In my role at a third-party logistics provider, I developed local relationships with the referring managers who were, more than any other role I had worked in, seen as the customer. The service manager, Caroline Carter, was inspirational with diaries managed by the individual clinician and customer satisfaction was a key benchmark.

For me, the key to being a good OH specialist is to be entrenched in the business operations and cultures in order to deliver value-added services.

While at this role, I became very interested in attendance management, the impact of management styles, working conditions and social environments on individuals’ attendance at work.

In 2003, I experienced a devastating life event that forced me to reflect on my career path – the sudden bereavement of my husband of 25 years after an accident overseas. This was a make-or-break time in my life and, thanks to the support of family and friends, it led to me founding a business that has been very successful across the UK.

People Asset Management was conceived from an offer of an HR manager with whom I had developed a great relationship to provide a personal OH service to one depot of a major high street retailer. This quickly led to a fast-growing business.

What are the goals and priorities in your current role?

Personal contact with customers was, from the outset, key to gaining new business – the business grew from HR managers moving from one business to another and recommending me to their new employer. We used a three-month rolling contract on the understanding that if we failed to deliver, we would be put under notice to terminate.

The early goals for the business were to gain accreditation to audit our practice, beginning with ISO 2008 and ultimately being one of the first providers to achieve the SEQOHS OH accreditation scheme standards.

What motivates you today?

At this time of year, I am always motivated by seeing bedding plants, fruits and vegetables spring up from the seeds I have planted in my greenhouse. Otherwise, I have diverse interests including meeting up with a network of interesting and diverse friends and acquaintances.

I am currently having discussions with Anne Harriss, associate professor of OH at London South Bank University, to build stronger relationships between academia and practice.

It is our intention to formalise the placement process so that there are opportunities available for students. This supports my ambition, via our PAM Academy, to train and develop our own OH practitioners from a pool of general OH nurses. Associated with this interest is my recent appointment to the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing Development Group. Quality is one of my primary drivers both professionally and personally – being the best you can be every day. I have been involved with SEQOHS as an assessor since its inception and am now a lead assessor for the scheme. I also recently trained to be a SEQOHS quality improvement adviser and am a member of the SEQOHS Steering Group.

I am a trustee of the Citizens Advice Bureau and a justice of the peace. Both of these voluntary roles bring different challenges requiring effective listening and communication skills, as well as fairness, dedication and commitment. I feel that OH advisers have very transferable skills that can be exploited for the benefit of society.

I still enjoy the satisfaction of publishing and am keen to build on this further, while continuing to look for opportunities to keep life interesting.

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

My key piece of advice is to entrench yourself into the business to which you are providing services – whether as a sole practitioner or part of a team – and to fully understand the needs of the service users, the budget holders and other key stakeholders, which may be unions or other bodies. Remain cognizant that these needs may not always be allied and so it is important to develop your skills in order to make fair and pragmatic decisions defensible by contemporaneous notes and report-writing skills. Further to this, recognise where you may have skills gaps and escalate cases as appropriate so that you can add to your own body of knowledge and be able to manage a similar case next time.

It is a rewarding career with masses of diversity and opportunity, however it is important to be resilient to change and to embrace opportunities to grow and develop. It is a career I would absolutely recommend.

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