Occupational health survey: Numbers crunching

Occupational health (OH) nurses are behind the government’s plans to make OH more accessible to UK workers, a survey reveals. The national survey of 150 OH practitioners by recruitment consultancy Occupational Health Recruitment was carried out in April and reveals the views of OH practitioners on issues including national OH strategy, remote working, pay, conduct, and job security.

Dame Carol Black’s review has been a major talking point in recent months. Seventy-two per cent of respondents feel the report will have a positive impact on the OH profession. The biggest impact for OH professionals will be the introduction of fit-for-work teams and closer communication between OH and GPs. Half (50%) think that UK employers are getting the message to invest and reduce sickness absence.

OH advisers cited recognition and respect as the two factors most lacking in how the OH profession is perceived, and the responses show awareness of the profession among staff could be higher. Twenty-four per cent said “all” the employees in their company were aware of the OH function, while 50% said that the “majority” were, and 14% said half of them were, leaving 12% who said that only a minority or no staff were aware.

The use of OH technicians was another topic, with 80% saying they do not currently work with technicians. Of the 18% who do, 96% said they see them as a help to the OH service providers.

However, OH administrators were seen as the most important supporting role to an OH team, followed in order by physiotherapists, OH physicians, OH technicians, OH therapists, and dentists.

The survey also covered the role external healthcare providers and remote case management play. Fifty-two per cent currently work for a healthcare provider either on an ad hoc, part-time or full-time basis. Of that figure, 50% work across several contracts, and 50% work on just one. Most of those working on multiple contracts (82%) feel they are able to cover all their work.

In-house service

Asked whether they would prefer to work for an in-house service or external provider, 47% said they would prefer to work for an in-house OH department, while 20% would prefer to work for a healthcare provider, with 33% not feeling qualified to answer.

Many, 45%, of people surveyed have considered setting up their own OH service.

Remote case management is common, with 66% of people saying they have provided or currently provide it, while 70% believe they will provide it in the future. However, 66% feel they cannot achieve as much over the phone compared with a face- to-face assessment.

At the same time, 75% feel that in most cases, you can save a lot of time by doing remote case management and seeing only the most important cases face to face. Most (68%) think the whole industry is moving towards remote case management.

At least half of OH practitioners are less than happy with their salaries, with 56% of those who have worked on an agency basis feeling the hourly rates were not generous, and 62% feeling that permanent OH salaries are not well paid.


The survey also showed concerns about conduct brought about by the demands of employers, with 60% saying they have felt compromised in a role, and 66% saying they have been asked to do something they felt was wrong. Of that group, 96% said they did not do as they were asked.

More than half (59%) said they had suffered physical or verbal abuse in the workplace, and 41% of these respondents feel that their company did not handle the situation correctly, with 82% feeling the same thing could happen again.

There is a mixed reaction regarding job security. While 56% are confident that their role is valued by their organisation, 30% are slightly concerned their role will be made redundant, and 9% are very concerned. Only 5% have already been made redundant.

In conclusion, it is to be hoped that Dame Carol Black’s review will lead to better recognition and respect than OH advisers currently receive. There is concern that nurses continue to be verbally and physically abused, and it is felt that it “comes with the job”.

It is clear that external OH service providers will be important in future. Above all, it is obvious that OH professionals are very passionate about their industry, and care about its future.

OH practitioners’ average predicted salaries

£49,494 – OH regional manager (large team)

£44,175 – OH regional manager (small team)

£40,617 – Senior OH adviser (management responsibilities)

£37,185 – Senior OH adviser

£35,423 – Qualified OH adviser (stand alone role)

£33,551 – Qualified OH adviser (part of a team)

£30,050 – Registered nurse with OH experience (full OH remit)

£27,095 – Registered nurse with OH experience

Source: OH Recruitment, April 2009

Steve Roberts is commercial manager at OH + OS Recruitment. For a full copy of the report, e-mail sroberts@ohrecruitment.co.uk

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