OH must embrace technicians to tackle its skills shortages

OH professionals need to get over their fear of working with OH technicians if they are to fully grasp the opportunities being presented to them by the government’s workplace heath reforms, practitioners have been warned.

If technicians are to be employed effectively – and ministers have indicted they see the their increased use as a key part of expanding access to OH services – there needs to be better support, supervision and training structures in place, OH professionals have said.

Dr Andrew Curran, scientific director for the Health and Safety Laboratory’s Centre for Workplace Health, which has employed OH technicians for the past four years, said they had a hugely important role to play, but only under close supervision.

“OH is moving up the agenda. There are a number of initiatives that the profession should be grasping. This is the first time OH has had this profile, and we need to think of ways to build on the available momentum,” he said.

The RCN has expressed disquiet about the growing use of technicians, worrying that some employers are either using them as a cheap alternative to OH or simply failing to understand what they are buying.

There needs to be a clear debate about the accountability and remit of technicians, including whether it is necessary to create a register and a standard qualification, Carol Bannister, RCN OH adviser, has warned.

Others are calling for greater input from universities in training technicians, so that employers do not have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when one is recruited.

The Health and Safety Laboratory is working with the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to look at ways of formalising the qualification for technicians.

Rolls-Royce has set up a career development package so OH technicians can progress to more senior positions.

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