During the last decade bullying has become the legitimate concern of a number of different professional groups involved in the welfare of people at work. One such profession is that of occupational health, comprising in particular occupational health nurses and physicians, but also a range of other specialist practitioners with expertise in health and safety management.
In the past, occupational health professionals have been concerned primarily with ensuring that workers are protected from harmful exposure to a range of physical, chemical and biological hazards which might be encountered in the workplace. With modern reductions in occupational disease, however, the focus has shifted from these more traditional concerns towards problems which may involve a range of psychosocial as well as physical determinants (Crawford and Bolas, 1996; Spurgeon et al., 1997; Devereux et al., 1999). Improvements in physical conditions at work, as well as in society as a whole, have meant that health expectations have risen beyond those which consist simply of an absence of disease. Instead there is now more frequent expression of the need for a more general sense of 'well-being', a concept which recognises both the psychological and physical components of health.
The role of the occupational health professional has thus become much wider than hitherto, and certainly now encompasses a remit to tackle problems which come under the broad heading of 'occupationally-related stress'. Included in this would be issues relating to various types of harassment.
Given their increasing involvement in this field, it is important to recognise the particular perspective which occupational health practitioners bring to psychosocial issues in general, and the problem of workplace bullying in particular. Modern health and safety practice, both in occupational settings and in the wider community environment, is carried out within a well-defined framework known as risk management, of which risk assessment is an essential component (Rampal and Sadhra, 1999). This approach has been applied successfully over many years to a wide