Occupational health nurses serve an important role in the prevention of health problems for employees who work in hazardous environments. They focus on providing care to a specific demographic. This specialty nursing practice delivers health and safety programs and services to the workforce and community groups serving workers.
In this article, we will explore:
- What do occupational health nurses do?
- How do I become an occupational health nurse?
- What are the continuing education requirements?
- What are the salary and job outlook?
What do occupational health nurses do?
Unlike a nursing professional who cares for patients in private practices and hospital settings, an occupational health nurse provides treatment at a place of work. They work closely with both employers and employees to safeguard against work-related injuries and illnesses. These nurses work in industries where workers are prone to having contact with hazardous materials and working conditions.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses (2019), the manufacturing industry accounted for 15% of all private industry nonfatal illnesses and injuries. The 10 occupations accounting for 33.2% of all private industry cases that required days off from work due to the recovery of injuries and illness are:
- Nursing assistants
- Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
- Laborers (freight, stock, and material movers)
- Light truck drivers
- Construction laborers
- Maintenance and repair workers
- Stockers and order fillers
- Janitors and cleaners (except maids and housekeepers)
- Registered Nurses
- Retail Salespersons
A large part of the job responsibilities associated with these careers center on education and prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses. When employees are injured, occupational health nurses oversee their treatment to help them return to work as quickly – and safely – as possible.
Some of the other roles and responsibilities of occupational health nurses include:
- Administering medications prescribed for treating workplace injuries
- Performing physical exams and health assessments for employees
- Overseeing rehabilitation therapy following workplace injuries and illnesses
- Coordinating care for employees injured on the job
- Maintaining Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance documentation
- Implementing disaster preparedness and emergency response programs
How do I become an occupational health nurse?
Before you can work as an occupational health nurse, you must first become a licensed RN. Then, you must attend an accredited nursing program and graduate with a BSN or ADN. Once you have earned your nursing degree, you must pass the NCLEX-RN. Then you must complete at least two years of professional nursing experience. Ideally, you will want to choose a position that specializes in occupational health nursing so you can gain on-the-job experience.
Before you can work as an occupational health nurse independently, you must become certified. There are two certifications available: Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) or Certified Occupational Health Nurse – Specialist (COHN-S). Occupational health nurses can only hold one certification. COHN and COHN-S are similar. The main difference is that COHN-S certification emphasizes administration over clinical practice. Regardless of which option you choose, you must renew your certification every five years.
What are the continuing education requirements?
Continuing education is required of all occupational health nurses. The American Board for Occupational Health Nurses (ABOHN) requires that occupational nurses complete 50 contact hours related to occupational health practice every five years. It may be helpful to consult the COHN/COHN-S recertification handbook.
What are the salary and job outlook?
According to the most updated information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2020), the average annual salary for RNs is $75,330. The highest wage earners worked for government agencies, with annual salaries around $84,000.