Unity Occupational Health & Wellbeing
Rachel Brown is operations manager at Unity Occupational Health & Wellbeing, based in Norwich. Unity helps companies to promote health and protect their employees by looking at how work impacts health, and how medical conditions can affect people’s ability to do their work safely and effectively.
An interview with Rachel
Rachel shares how she came to work in occupational health, and explains how it’s possible to be flexible, yet still be obsessed with protocol and quality...
What was your first ever job?
When I left school I wanted to work with children. I lasted a month. I found the constant “Why” and “How does this work?” got to me in the end. I decided it wasn’t for me. Although I do love children, I could not see it as a lifelong career!
What led you to a career in occupational health?
I went to Norwich City College and did a business course, then joined Unity in 1987 as office junior – so I’ve been there a long time! That was soon after Unity had relocated its office to Norwich from Liverpool. It was a natural progression then through the company as it grew. I worked for the health & safety side, then moved into the occupational health side. I started at the bottom and worked my way up and have gained wide-ranging experience in all areas of occupational health over the years. I’ve seen some very interesting and exciting changes.
You’ve also worked within the NHS, haven’t you?
Yes. In 1999 I decided to reduce my hours at Unity and was offered a project in an NHS surgery, setting up a new contract. I did that for six months, then ended up staying with them until 2014 working on other projects which was great for me because I’m very protocol-driven. So, for 15 years I did two jobs. But in 2014 the opportunity arose to help manage Unity’s expansion programme at a time when occupational health was changing radically – it has been a very exciting and challenging time and we have more plans ongoing!
What makes Unity Occupational Health different from other occupational health companies?
A big thing for us is that we tailor our services to meet the client’s unique needs, by offering a bespoke service to all our businesses. So we don’t just accept each client is the same. We take the opportunity to talk with clients to understand their individual needs in order for us to provide the most efficient and effective service to them. I look at some of our competitors and their services seem quite rigid, but not everybody fits into that rigid structure – you need to be adaptable to the businesses-specific work culture.
We’ll also set up new services when they’re needed. For example, at the moment we’re putting together a new service offering diving medicals for people who work in the offshore industry or those who dive recreationally. We’ve also set up a new health surveillance programme for stonemasons, driven by some major HSE legislation changes.
What’s the most common problem people come to you about?
It’s a mixture really. We’re doing a lot of long-term sick cases and tricky medical cases now. And we’re doing a lot with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) at the moment, who are bringing out a lot of legislation which involves medical surveillance, so we’re doing ad hoc work with companies to meet their legal requirements.
The demand for workplace assessments has also increased to provide in-depth examination of the individual’s workplace and their ability to work safely and fulfil the employer’s statutory obligation to maintain a safe workplace.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
I like helping people – doing the best thing for the client and the employee. I like helping clients when they have problems, such as an employee off long-term sick, or a surveillance programme they’ve got to get set up quickly. I enjoy helping them set it up in the best way for them, making sure everyone gets the best out of it and seeing it through to the end. I’m obsessed with protocol and drive everyone mad, including doctors and nurses. But it’s important to get things just right so that we uphold our ethos of providing quality effective and efficient services to all our clients!
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Deadlines. Everyone wants something done yesterday. We try to be flexible, but no matter how flexible you are, someone always wants that little bit extra – and knowing where to draw the line is part of the challenge. But there’s never a dull moment – every day is different!
Who do you work most closely with in The People Kit?
Mary. She’s helped us by referring people to us, and helping us with HR issues. When I worked in the NHS, Mary worked with us a lot on contracts, staff disputes and things like that.
What made you want to be part of The People Kit?
I like the idea and I think it will really work. A lot of the smaller clients we work with do buy in all these services because they can’t afford the full time Health & Safety Manager or the HR person and so on. Everyone in The People Kit has the same commitment to do the very best for our clients and we share similar values. And I think we offer our clients a more tailored and personal service.
What’s your biggest achievement outside of work?
Well it’s probably a bit corny, but I’d say it’s my family. I’m most proud of my family and our achievements.