I manage four occupational health advisers and an administrator and am responsible for the occupational health service of two sites. We ensure that employees are fit to do their jobs and that nothing they do at work is going to cause them to become unwell. For example through attendance management, so if someone is off work we try to negotiate ways to get them back to work as quickly as possible, and if someone is at work but not fully fit we offer advise on how the workplace can be adapted.
We look at ways to reduce stress and pressure so employees can work to their full capacity. We look over risk assessments and advise on the legal requirements of the employer to its employees. We also run training sessions on ergonomics, and for employees working with specific types of compounds. We make referrals to physiotherapists. We carry out risk assessments for and we offer advice to pregnant employees. So you can see it’s very varied.
It’s so varied, that’s the beauty of the job, you have absolutely no idea what you’re gong to be faced with.
Today, for instance I’ve got someone booked in for an update on a member of their team who’s not been well, and another meeting with a manager about how we can increase the hours of someone who has returned to work after long term sick. I have a travel clinic to give vaccines for employees going on business travel. I have to process medical certificates.
The practical side of the role you work mainly with other people but the report writing and offering advice you are working on your own. I’d say as a team leader 40% on my own and 60% with other people, but occupational health advisers will work less on their own.
I started out as a bank nurse, which basically means you’re temping, employed through an agency. I was working with volunteers in clinical trials. I worked for a few years in clinical pharmacology nursing and then a job came up for a full time post as an occupational health adviser.
To be honest I didn’t really. It was just that an opportunity came up, I saw a job advertised in the local paper within the industry that suited me at that stage in my life, I had had a career break when I had my children and wanted to return to work part time. Then a few years later a permanent post came up within occupational health within the industry and I’ve been here ever since.
I wanted to be a nurse so I took A-levels that allowed me to pursue nursing. I trained as a registered general nurse at the Royal Free Hospital in London. All occupational health advisors have nursing qualifications and in addition have an occupational health qualification. The pharmaceutical company that I work for sponsored me through my qualification.
Gaining my qualifications later in life. Being able to juggle work, having a family and studying.
The next step would be to become a regional manager, they look after team leaders across a number of different sites.
People and interpersonal skills. You need to be able to influence people. You also need to have a wide understanding of the law, as a lot of what we do is underpinned by the law. It’s very important to have a good understanding of the industry as if you didn’t it would be very difficult to offer support to employees within it.
To do my job you need to train as a nurse and then get your occupational health qualification, either by getting a job within occupational health and study part time while working, or self-fund your way through the course full time. There is a great shortage of qualified occupational health nurses so it’s a great career to get in to.
An understanding and appreciation of your specialisation, coupled with a good work ethic will get you in the door. After that it definitely is what you make of it.