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Occupational health nursing is a specialty practice that provides a multitude of health and safety programs and services to a company’s employees.  The practice of occupational health nursing focuses on promoting and restoring health, preventing illnesses and injuries, and protecting workers from work-related injuries and environmental exposures and hazards. The occupational health nurse (OHN) has blended healthcare expertise with a knowledge of business in order to provide a safe and healthful work environment while simultaneously and positively impacting a company’s bottom line. 

Poor employee health costs companies a combined $1 trillion annually.

Many companies rely on onsite OHNs to maximize employee productivity while at the same time reduce expenditures.  This is attained by lowered absentee rates, lowered disability claims, and a reduction in work-related injuries. Acknowledged as valued business partners, OHNs are both managers and leaders in their efforts to guide corporate improvements, employees, employee populations, productivity, and the overall health and safety of the workforce while positively contributing to the financial bottom line. The OHN ensures this by developing and implementing occupational health and safety programs and services that align with the company’s vision and mission.  Occupational health programs can be tailored to guide the necessary improvements to assure attainment of the desired outcomes.

The roles of OHN today are multifaceted, diverse, versatile, and flexible and can range from consultant to counselor to clinician to compliance officer to educator to case manager. The responsibilities of the OHN have expanded significantly to encompass the responsibilities above plus an array of responsibilities that can include (but are not limited to):

Health promotion: OHNs design programs that support positive lifestyle changes and preventive strategies to keep employees healthy and productive.   These programs encompass lowering the risk of disease and injury while creating an environment that delivers a sense of work-life balance (work, family, personal, health, psychosocial concerns, and any of the other curve balls life can throw out).  Other onsite programs can include: Immunizations, smoking cessation, exercise/fitness, nutrition, weight control, health maintenance, optimal wellness, stress management, chronic disease monitoring, and education of effective use of medical services are just a few.  These programs can be custom-tailored for the employee population.  Research shows that a healthy and cared for employee population increases productivity. 

Counseling and crisis intervention: Nurses are one of the most trusted professions. Typically, an employee will seek out the nurse when they need help or support. In addition to counseling employees about work-related illnesses and injuries, OHNs frequently counsel employees for other issues as well.  These issues can include substance abuse, psychosocial needs or support, and other health or work-related concerns. Typically, OHNs assume the primary responsibility for managing the employee assistance program (EAP) and handle referrals to EAP and/or other community resources as needed.

Preventative control measures for exposures: OHNs recognize and identify the various exposures and hazards of the workplace.  Based off the known exposures and hazards, OHNs can conduct research on the effects of the known workplace hazards) and exposure and can in turn monitor, evaluate, and analyze their effects.  The OHN will gather and use the known health hazard information to select and implement preventive control measures. In turn, OHNs can perform an analysis of the workplace to detect patterns, trends, changes, and commonalities.

Legal and regulatory compliance: Many regulations and laws affect companies and employee populations; whether it falls within the spectrum of state and/or federal regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or laws that affect the individual employee or the employee population, such as the FMLA or the Americans With Disabilities Act. OHNs work with companies on assuring compliance is in order.

Case management: In the event an employee becomes sick or injured, the OHNs routinely oversee and direct the care of ill and/or injured employee. The role as case manager has grown more complex with the coordination and management of work-related and/or non-work-related injuries and illnesses.  Many related facets must be considered including group health insurance, workers’ compensation, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and short-term/long-term disability benefits. 

As you can see, OHNs are utilized in many capacities and having an OHN onsite benefits the employee, the employee population, as well as the company.  Each of the capacities in which the OHN is utilized will provide a safe and healthful employee population, and that positively impacts the bottom line.

If you have any questions regarding onsite occupational health nursing, please contact me at (919) 459-5275 or lgallion@ei1.com.