Facts About Occupational Health Nursing

 What Is An Occupational Health Nurse?

Occupational health nursing occurs in the work place at an actual place of business. Nurses that work in this line of working are required to administer care to workers at that business or company who incur injuries and illnesses while at work. In addition to this basic care, they are also expected to identify potential health risks before they occur and prevent said risks from having an impact on the health of the workers.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

The following are the main duties of an occupational health nurse:

  • One of the primary duties of an occupational health nurse is to identify and prevent hazards in the work place.
  • It will be your responsibility to treat any injuries experienced by workers at that work place.
  • As an occupational health nurse you will also be responsible for educating workers and employers regarding the use of safety equipment.
  • Assessment of the work environment for potential hazards is an important facet of your job.
  • Occupational health nurses also educate workers and their employers on common workplace illnesses and injuries.
  • Records must be kept by the occupational health nurse of any illnesses or injuries that occur.
  • It will be your responsibility to educate employers and employees regarding occupational health laws.


Occupational Health NurseOccupational health nurses can work in schools, at construction sites, at factories, in hospitals, in offices, as independent consultants, or for the government. As employment goes this is one of the nursing specialties that allow you the greatest freedom in terms of where you are allowed to work. The job also comes with a greater level of independence. Unlike in a hospital setting, where most RNs work, you will not be obliged to follow instructions from superiors as you will, in most cases, be the only health care professional in the work place setting and will therefore have the freedom to run things your own way. In addition to this the working hours are far better than in a hospital setting as you will not work shifts, but rather adhere to office hours.

Occupational Health Nurse Requirements

To become an occupational health nurse you need:

  • An RN license
  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing
  • The right personality
  • A willingness to work hard

In order to earn the RN license you will need to enter an RN training program. There are various levels of education that you can attain in order to be an RN, but, as you require a bachelor’s degree at the bare minimum in order to become an occupational health nurse, there is no point in studying for a lesser qualification, such as a diploma in nursing, or an associate’s degree in nursing. There is quite a lot of competition for getting into nursing schools, so you will need to stand out from the crowd. A high school diploma will also be required.

Personality Traits

Nurses working in occupational health need to have a very close attention to detail and a desire to ensure that nothing is missed. This is very important in terms of one of your primary functions in this occupation, namely, assessing work environments for potential hazards and preventing those hazards form occurring. If you miss something you may not be able to fulfill this job role adequately. Your other primary goal in the health care setting, namely patient care, requires empathy as well as genuine compassion and caring for the various workers under your care. The same personality traits are required in this regard as in any other nursing career. Clear communication skills, both verbal and written, are required to educate employers and employees and communicate information regarding potential hazards and threats in the work environment.

Educational Requirements

To become an occupational health nurse you will need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing as a very basic educational requirement. Following that you will need to engage in additional training to become an occupational health nurse. There are a number of certifications and qualifications that you can earn in this regard:

  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN).
  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist (COHN-S).
  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse/Case Manager (COHN/CM).
  • Certified Occupational Health Nurses-Specialist/Case Manager (COHN-S/CM).
  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse/Safety Manager (COHN/SM).
  • Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist/Safety Manager (COHN-S/SM).

Each of these will require additional training. Your state board of nursing is the resource that you should turn to in order to ascertain which the best educational path is for you, as well as t find out what additional requirements your state may have.


To be an occupational health nurse you must hold an RN license. In order to receive an RN license completion of an RN training program is necessary. Reminder: it is better to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing as this is an educational requirement for being an occupational health nurse. Completing the program successfully will allow you to apply to your state board of nursing for licensure, providing the program that you completed was accredited. If your application for licensure is approved you will then be eligible to set a date to write the NCLEX-RN examination through Pearson Vue for the cost of $200. The exam consists of multiple choice questions and is computer based. Passing the exam earns you your license which you must renew on a regular basis according to the rules of your state.

How To Become An Occupational Health Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

This is the training path that you can take in order to become an occupational health nurse:

  • Firstly you need to finish the general nursing educational courses through a bachelor’s degree that will form the major part of your RN course (theory and practical)
  • The courses that you do must be at an accredited school and you must satisfy all program requirements.
  • The next step is to get your RN license by completing the course and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
  • Last but not least you will need to go back to school to complete a master’s degree in nursing with specialization in occupational health.
  • Get certified in occupational health nursing from a certifying agency such as the American Board for Occupational Health Nurses.

Source An Accredited Education Program

Not attending an accredited program to complete your bachelor’s degree and alter your master’s degree will result in a great waste of time as well as of money for you. This is because you will be unable to become licensed or certified if the program is not accredited and usually you will need to begin a completely new an accredited program from the beginning before you will be able to receive the desired qualifications. There are a number of schools out there that are not accredited and you need to be very wary of these schools. Your state board of nursing can provide you with information about which schools are accredited and which are not. Current RNs will also be able to give you advice in this regard as they cannot be where they are unless they attended an accredited program.

Earn Your Associate’s Degree

To be an occupational health nurse you need:

  • A bachelor’s degree in general nursing AND
  • A master’s degree in occupational health nursing

Consequently an associate’s degree is not enough for this profession. However it is a useful way to get involved in the nursing industry if you are unable to afford or otherwise commit to a longer degree immediately. To earn an associate’s degree:

  • Create a list of associate’s degree in nursing programs in your area
  • Create a short list of the options that you think are the best
  • Apply for each school you are interested in, remembering to adhere to each school’s application requirements – the more schools you apply for the higher your chances
  • Choose a program and complete it in order to earn you associate’s degree

Obtain Your Licensure

Although it is generally more popular for nurses to complete a master’s degree program in occupational health nursing in order to become an occupational health nurse, you can also receive the right to obtain certification in this field of nursing by working 3,000 hours in 5 years in an occupational health nursing setting (Note: in order to gain this experience many employers will require that you have a master’s degree). Certification through the appropriate organization will earn you status as an occupational health nurse. Certification must also be renewed regularly according to the rules of your state. Usually you will be required to present proof of 3,000 hours of occupational health work experience and 50 Continuing Nursing Education hours in occupational health practice. Time periods for recertification may vary between states.

Online/Distance Education Programs

Because hands-on training for the final occupational nurse certification exam is not always a requirement in every state, online learning is a possibility. Even if hands-on training is required in your state you will still be able to complete the theory part of the course in an online setting. There are a number of advantages to online training including:

  • Flexibility
  • Keeping your own schedule
  • The ability to work from home

Some online schools that offer this qualification are:

  • Oakland University School of Nursing: Occupational Health Certificate
  • The University of North Carolina Online: Master of Public Health in Occupational Health Nursing
  • UNC Gillings School of Public Health: Occupational Health Nursing Certificate
  • The University of South Florida: Occupational Health Nursing

As with all schools these online programs must be accredited.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for nursing in general is extremely good and is, in fact, expected to grow by about 26% between now and 2013. This is faster than the growth rates for any other industry. Consequently RN’s already have a stable job to look forward to. RNs with specialty qualifications are in even greater demand. Occupational health nurses fall into the category of advanced practice nurses whose skills are in need across the country. Occupational health nurses also have general nurse training, allowing them to work in general nursing settings as well as in occupational health settings. Last but not least there is an increase in health and safety rules across the country, meaning that occupational nurses are in greater demand in work places in order to ensure that standards are being adhered to.


The average salary that you can earn as an occupational health nurse depends to a certain degree on your gender. Female occupational health nurses, who make up 93% of the profession, can earn around $56,199 – $73,376 a year, while males, who make up 7% of the occupational health nursing profession, earn slightly less at $47,495 – $61,500 a year. The degree and level of education you have can also affect how much you earn as an occupational health nurse:

  • With a Bachelor’s Degree you can expect to earn about $47,168 – $81,770 a year.
  • With an Associate’s Degree you can expect to earn about $48,280 – $75,316 a year.
  • With a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) you can expect to earn about $52,540 – $84,439 a year.

Some cities are more popular to work in than others, partly because of the salaries you can earn there. These include Columbus in Ohio, Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Joliet in Illinois, Atlanta in Georgia, Houston in Texas, Durham in North Carolina, and San Jose in California.

The road to becoming an occupational health nurse is certainly a long one and you will need to be sure that you will have the time and resources required to devote to this career path before you embark upon it. A nursing specialty means that you will have a higher degree of respect from others in the health care profession as well as a higher salary and room for advancement.

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