An occupational health nurse is a health-care professional who normally works with companies heavily involved in physical labor. These normally include warehouses, production and manufacturing facilities and construction companies. His main responsibility is to monitor the safety of work activities and the work environment. He is expected to ensure every precaution is being taken to create and maintain a safe and healthy work environment.
Unlike a traditional nurse, an occupational health nurse does not administer care or medicine, monitor vital signs or directly treat patients. His job is to inspect machinery, monitor procedures and environmental conditions and observe employees to assess workplace threats to health and safety. An occupational health nurse regularly develops and implements programs and initiatives to eliminate risks and promote health and safety among employees.
As part of a team or independently, he utilizes his knowledge of regional and national laws and guidelines to create and implement company health and safety policies. He also takes into account specific circumstances at each location and incorporates these into his recommendations. These include repetitive accidents involving the same people or equipment, higher rates of illness within certain departments and areas that appear to contribute more than others to employee stress.
Regularly reviewing employee health records is an important part of an occupational health nurse’s job. From these records, he can determine injury or illness trends, monitor the progress of injured employees upon their return to work and analyze absentee statistics for seasonal or departmental commonalities. Understanding these factors helps the nurse make recommendations for proactive solutions he can suggest to management. He may also advise employers on ways to comply with labor laws and avoid penalties or reprimands.
Discretion is an important attribute for people in this position. An occupational health nurse is required to subtly observe workplace activities prior to forming opinions or filing reports. Some questionable practices may be unintentional, but other infractions may be the result of attempts to save money or time. If any of these situations pose a threat, the nurse is compelled to document and report them.
As government guidelines and legislative directives regarding workplace safety and health become stricter, the need for occupational health nurses increases. In very large manufacturing or production companies, the position is often a full-time salaried one. Many people in this position also work on a contractual basis for consulting firms or personally market their skills as an independent contractor.
Becoming an occupational health nurse normally requires a registered nursing (RN) degree and experience working in a community health capacity. Almost all occupational health nursing positions also require special certification that varies by region and industry.