Occupational health nurses work for companies to keep their employees healthy and safe while on the job.
These nurses are responsible for a many duties, including:
Care – Occupational health nurses are case managers in the workplace which means they direct primary and specialized care for employees who are ill or injured. They’re responsible for documenting what caused the illness or injury, and referring employees to physicians and rehabilitation centers along with other services. They also follow-up with employees to determine the quality of care as well as to interpret results of physical exams and diagnostic tests and to explain the results to the patients. The nurses help them until they return to work or are declared permanently disabled. For employees who are dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues, the nurses will counsel them or arrange for a counselor.
Preventing Injuries – Occupational health nurses play a key role when it comes to preventing workplace injuries. They are responsible for evaluating job sites to determine any risk factors such as poorly maintained equipment and unstable surfaces along with monitoring employees to find out if operating practices could lead to injuries. If an injury does occur, they determine the exact cause, and they always notify their employer in writing about their findings and recommend changes that will prevent or reduce work-related illnesses and injuries.
Programs – Another one of their responsibilities is putting together corporate wellness programs, including health fairs where employees can be screened for conditions such as high blood pressure. If a company has environmental or occupational hazards, the nurses create pamphlets, posters, and other educational materials to remind employees of safe working practices.
There are several industries and workplaces that hire occupational nurses. Nuclear power plants employ them to train employees in safe operation practices, while construction, manufacturing, and mining companies depend on them to prevent injuries. They also work for insurance companies to consult on health education, and hospitals to care for patients suffering from work-related injuries or illnesses.
Those who wish to become occupational health nurses need to first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, before moving on to a certificate or graduate program for occupational health nurses.
It takes 10 to 15 coursework credit hours to complete a certificate that consists of developing occupational health programs and the factors that influence health and safety in the workplace. Course topics may include epidemiology, ergonomics, industrial hygiene, occupational safety, and toxicology.
A master’s takes two-years of full-time study, and topics are likely to include advanced health and nursing practices, current occupational health issues, health promotion, research methods, and risk assessment and reduction.
For occupational health nurses who wish to work in an academic or research-based setting, a Doctor of Science in Occupational Health Nursing degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree with a concentration in occupational health nursing is required. Coursework topics are likely to include environmental health, principles of public health, statistical methods, and toxicology.
All registered nurses need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) in order to practice. Depending on state regulations, you may need to be fingerprinted or consent to a background check in order to obtain a license.
Occupational health nurses become certified by passing the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses Certification exam. It contains 150 multiple-choice questions, and components include management, health promotion, direct care, environmental relationships, industrial hygiene, counseling, and toxicology.
Job Outlook and Salary
The job outlook for all registered nurses is excellent as there are not enough of them to meet the high demand, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for registered nurses in all specialty areas was $67,930 in 2012.
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