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Jain Holmes, Training Director and Anne Byrne, Clinical Director with Obair wrote an article for the Occupational Health Magazine that was published online on 3 May 2014 part of the Personnel Today essential HR news and guidance from the Xpert HR team.

Here is an excerpt of our article – if you want to read the whole thing then go straight to the article here.

Occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational health professionals are frequently mistaken for each other. OTs Jain Holmes and Anne Byrne aim to demystify what their profession does, and identify what they contribute to the workings of occupational health.
OT training centralises around understanding how a human being functions in everyday life (home, school, work and leisure) and we are medically dual-trained in physical and mental health and can therefore work with individuals who have problems in either or both areas.

Our approach is holistic, which means we look at the person, the tasks they want or need to accomplish and the environments in which they want or need to perform the tasks. Therefore, we spend a great deal of time during our training learning about how humans might function differently in various built (physical) and social environments, and how tasks and environments can be adapted to fit the person’s needs or their functional impairment in order to facilitate performance.

How does occupational therapy apply to OH?
OTs focus on where a health issue impacts on the individual’s capacity to do their job or remain in their job, and we can potentially be used to determine if the issue preventing return to work or remaining at work relates to work capability, the job tasks or the work environment.

We identify and translate the employee’s physical or mental health symptoms in such a way that describes the impact they have on that employee’s job, and employees and employers advise that this is often one of the most useful aspects of an OT evaluation.

Following an evaluation and analysis (dependant on the referral request), the findings allow OTs to recommend a variety of methods that will help an employee to stay at or return to work (RTW) in a safe and sustainable manner.

Ideally, together with the larger workplace team (OH, HR and line managers), we will chart an employee’s progress and solve issues if and when they arise to the point where functioning in the job role remains stable and the RTW is sustained.

Our core skills lie in evaluating human functioning – i.e. the whole person in the specific environment doing a particular task – and then improving function by building an individualised, goal oriented rehabilitation programme with the aim in OH of progressing a case-to-case resolution. Inevitably there is some overlap with other professionals in a broader OH team, and OTs view this positively as it allows us to understand roles and participate in the multidisciplinary team with greater effectiveness.

In a previous editorial on 2 April 2014, Julia Skelton, Director of professional operations at the College of Occupational Therapists echoed Jain and Anne’s sentiments about the value that OTs brings to OH, “Occupational therapists do, of course, work within OH already – but the numbers at the moment are still quite small. I think things will begin to change over the next five to 10 years and allied health professionals, including occupational therapists, will be more self-evident within these services. I do think the relationship will evolve”. The College, for example, is working with the Council for Work and Health and Anne Byrne is the representative for the College and has been discussing new innovations such as the Health at Work Service.
Anne Byrne is attending this week’s annual conference of the National School of Occupational Health in London and providing a workshop to look at how OTs and OH can work successfully together. Her workshop is entitled:

The Scotch Whisky Industry: The Role for Occupational Therapy

The Scotch Whisky industry employs 45,000 workers directly and indirectly and a large majority of these workers are engaged in manual work using traditional methods that can be difficult to adapt. It is therefore vitally important that the skilled workforce engaged in this industry, which accounts for £4.3 billion in UK exports, remain at work and the risk of injury and absence is minimised.

As an occupational therapist providing services to occupational health at a large manufacturer of Scotch Whisky there are a number of services aimed at reducing absence and the risk of injury that can be provided in order to add value to existing OH services.  This workshop will give participants an overview of the Scotch Whisky industry and the services Occupational Therapy provides within Occupational Health and will use examples from manufacturing process to focus the workshop on job demands analysis and ergonomics. Through an interactive session we will review a number of principles and strategies to minimise the risk and facilitate performance that can be applied in any industry where manual work is carried out.

We will provide an update on Anne’s workshop in the coming weeks.