Advanced Nursing: Occupational Health Nurse

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An Occupational Health Nurse or OHN is a Registered Nurse who is responsible for observing and assessing workers’ health status with respect to job tasks and hazards. Using their specialized training and experience, occupational health nurses recognize and prevent adverse health effects resulting from hazardous exposures and treat workers’ injuries and illnesses. 

Laura assisting her mentor in the obstetrics and gynaecology department in Tanzania OHNs typically work together with employers to develop business-compatible health and safety programs that are customised for each organization’s unique type of work and workforce environment. They promote an interdisciplinary approach to health care and make recommendations to employers to put prevention-oriented, cost-effective health and safety measures in place in the workplace.

Detailed job description


The available roles in this specialist field are extremely diverse, encompassing any and all of the wide-ranging issues associated with occupational health and safety.  Occupational health nurses may work as consultants, clinicians, corporate directors, case managers or educators. 

OHNs also shoulder a wide array of responsibilities, including:

  • Environmental health
  • Employee treatment, follow-up and referrals
  • Employee rehabilitation and return-to-work issues
  • Emergency planning & preparedness
  • Emergency care and treatment for job-related injuries and illnesses
  • Disease management
  • Gatekeeper for healthcare services

Occupational health nurses offer guidance and support to workers with regards to work-related illness and injuries as well as emotional and family problems.  When necessary, they will refer clients to appropriate employee assistance programs or other community resources. They then manage and coordinate follow-up care to ensure that the employee receives the full benefit of the program.

OHNs also develop customised programs related to health education and disease management in the workplace and encourage workers to take responsibility for their own health. These programs could include issues such as nutrition and weight control, exercise and fitness, smoking cessation, control of chronic illnesses, stress management strategies and effective use of medical services.

On a larger scale, OHNs monitor the health status of workers, worker populations and community groups by conducting varied research on the effects of workplace exposures and collecting health and hazard data.

An increasing number of organisations today are choosing to hire Occupational Health Nurses either full time or as consultants to help reduce costs and maximize employee productivity by effectively lowering on-the-job injuries and absenteeism, reducing disability claims and putting measures in place to improve employee health and safety.

Working Conditions

The work environment for Occupational Health Nurses is as varied as their roles. An OHN who chooses the educational path would typically work in a classroom. Other workplaces could range from clinic as a clinician or case manager to the boardroom as a corporate director to business setting as a consultant.  The work schedule varies depending upon the work environment, position and responsibilities involved. 

Academic Requirements

You must hold an RN or BSN degree in order to apply to an Occupational Health Nursing program.  Depending on the program you choose, your OHN training may lead to a Master’s degree or doctoral degree. You will then need to sit for a certification exam to become a Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN).

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