Held every two years, this event at Sandhurst Military Academy brings together occupational health and medicine professionals working in the armed forces. A key note address from the Chief of Defence People, Lt Gen Richard Nugee, on the first day outlined the challenge: to ensure the maximum number of military personnel are fully deployable. As part of this objective, military occupational health practice helps protect, promote and restore health ensuring medical fitness to both employ and deploy soldier sailors and airmen (common issues being mental health and musculoskeletal injuries). Thankfully, all military personnel have access to good quality occupational health, whereas in the civilian population this is not the case.
Dr Robin Cordell has worked both in the military and civilian sectors and compared occupational health practice between the two. He highlighted the enduring importance of leadership. Workplace health problems can arise wherever there is poor leadership and team functioning. It was reassuring to hear that a core part of the training at Sandhurst is to support a leadership style that serves and aims to improve team dynamics and interpersonal relationships. He also highlighted that military occupational health has unique challenges, hazards and risks such as with the equipment used. Whereas private sector occupational health services have a commercial imperative, in the armed forces there is a shared outcome of facilitating return to work / being deployable for operations.
The first day also covered current issues in the military workforce: women fighting in ground close combat, transgender issues and women as submariners. I was impressed as to how military occupation health professionals also provide a significant contribution to the broader OM community –through an impressive investment in training of the next generation of professionals and undertaking research. There were some excellent research presentations - for example, examining if there is there a link between higher body mass index and fitness for deployment - is it that the bigger you are the more likely you were going to be unfit to be deployed? The results confirmed that is the case, and that excess weight and obesity effectively cost the Royal Navy 108 deployable bodies – a whole ship of people! However, it was reassuring to know that if the Royal Navy’s population was the same weight as the UK’s population there would be significantly more men unfit to deploy. Other research suggested that recruiting standards should be maintained and that efforts should be made to reduce obesity as this can also lead to increased risk of injury.
Nick Pahl, SOM CEO