OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH

Published: 17/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 34

NHS Employers launched the 2005 Blue Book earlier this year to offer guidance on a wide range of occupational health issues such as needlestick injuries, stress management and alcohol and drug use.

It shows how times have changed.

The update of the 1998 original also covers new matters of importance like managing sickness absence, with an additional 14 chapters on issues such as the use of latex.

One award-winning team is putting some of these changes into effect. 'The only effective way to implement occupational health and safety today is to provide a 24-hour service with constant positive support, ' says Judy Green, back care advisory team manager at the Isle of Wight Healthcare trust.

'Perhaps the biggest challenge is making people aware of the risks and their rights and responsibilities, which helps to take away the pressure. We find, when dealing with staff who work in a 'macho' environment, that this approach is exactly what they need.' Judy's team has recently been named winners of the Annual Back in Work National Awards 2005 which, in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive, celebrates the best of NHS occupational health and safety practice in reducing back and musculoskeletal injuries. The team also won the 'stakeholder engagement with successful outcomes' category.

'We aim to change the culture of work and people's mindsets so they realise there are certain things they just should not do unless it is an emergency, ' she says.

'For example, ambulance crews have high injury rates because they do a lot of heavy lifting. In the past they may have been seen as weak if they sought help. We encourage them to ask themselves - 'is there a piece of equipment that could help me move this manually?'' But, like the tax man, you can almost smell the sense of dread when care advisory teams come to town. is not Judy disheartened when workers think her team is simply 'sticking their nose in' where It is not needed?

'We have noticed quite a marked decline in resistance to this sort of approach, ' says Judy. 'We try to act quickly to help solve problems straight away, like when people have just got minor backache. Our funding has helped us to secure a pool of equipment on loan, so we can give people the right chairs, which helps to reduce injuries.' As well as increasing her workforce from one and a half to six, Judy has put two of her team through their masters degrees in health ergonomics, but she is quick to assert that winning the Back to Work award was due to the type of service that has evolved at the trust, rather than the result of a short-lived project.

'We take a proactive approach, ' she says. 'If people have been off sick, we work with them to get them back to work.

We will go and see people, which is a much more effective way of changing people's lives rather than it just being a department-based activity. There are always people who will resist change but if you can show that you are trying to protect them they'll come round.'

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