Occupational health and industrial nurses are registered nurses trained to identify potential health risks. As an occupational health nurse, or OHN, or as an industrial nurse, you help businesses keep employees healthy and safe at work. You identify and help mitigate potential health hazards in the workplace. You may also teach an employer and her employees how to identify potential hazards on their own.
As an OHN, you observe and assess the work environment and also the workers, evaluating whether their work puts their health or safety at risk. For example, at a power plant, you may need to identify chemical, physical, radiological or biological workplace hazards. You may also need to physically examine workers, take medical histories, review results of laboratory tests and report back to the workers and possibly their employer about your findings. You may also need to evaluate and manage non-occupational illnesses and injuries that may affect a worker’s health and safety in the workplace. A pregnant woman, for example, depending on her job and where she works, may need special accommodations for the duration of her pregnancy.
Education and Training
You must have at least a bachelor’s degree and a degree in nursing to work as an OHN or industrial nurse. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health provides training for registered nurses interested in becoming an OHN or industrial nurse.
You should have some experience working as an OHN or industrial nurse. Some employers, like Union Pacific, requires its OHNs to have worked previously as a case manager, nurse supervisor or charge nurse and also have related experience. Its OHNs must have at least five years experience while OHNs at Catholic Health Initiatives must have at least two years of relevant experience.
You must know about different workplace health hazards and how they can affect a worker’s health. You must also understand the relevant, site-specific principles of industrial hygiene and personal protective equipment. You must also understand toxicology and epidemiology specific to the workplace that you’re evaluating. You must be able to keep impeccable records, communicate well in writing and work well with others.
The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses has established 11 standards that OHNs and industrial nurses should follow. These standards clearly define the most effective way of working as an OHN or industrial nurse. For example, an OHN should not just look for health hazards but should also help put in place programs and services to support workplace safety.
Licensure and Certification
Though licensing requirements vary by state, you must be licensed in the state where you work. What you can and cannot do as an OHN also varies by state. You can get state-specific licensing requirements from the board of nursing in the state where you work. You can also get this information from the National Council on State Boards of Nursing. Some employers, like Union Pacific, require OHNs to be certified in occupational health nursing. You can earn certification through the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses. You may also need additional certification, such as in case management.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Health and Safety Specialists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Occupational Health and Safety Specialists Do
- U.S. Department of Labor: Nursing in Occupational Health
- American Association of Occupational Health Nurses: Standards
- Catholic Health Initiatives: Occupational Health Nurse, Central/Eastern Market Area, FT
- Union Pacific: Occupational Health Nurse
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images