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Occupational health nursing is a field within the nursing profession which is focused on the prevention and management of workplace injuries. Occupational health nurses can work for companies which want to provide nursing services to their employees, and for government agencies concerned with occupational and public health issues. Many are registered nurses, and some hold master's degrees in topics such as public health.
The practice of occupational health nursing is quite diverse, with nurses approaching occupational health from a number of perspectives. Many are concerned with identifying occupational hazards and confirming that companies are compliant with occupational health laws. They work with supervisors and employees to increase compliance rates, and to encourage reporting of unsafe or questionable working conditions. For this work, it is necessary to receive industry-specific training about potential hazards, government safety mandates, and topics which may be relevant to nursing practice.
Occupational health nursing is also concerned with prevention and education. A nurse may provide orientations to employees to teach them how to work safely and effectively, and they also offer regular education classes which promote employee health. These classes can include specific topics related to the workplace, along with more general health topics such as nutrition and exercise. Occupational health nurses also offer counseling to employees who need assistance with health issues which could influence their performance in the workplace, such as addiction or depression.
Members of the occupational health nursing profession also deal with workplace injuries when they occur. They manage individual patient cases from the time that an injury is reported through follow-up, and they use each injury as an opportunity to reevaluate the workplace and to determine if additional safety programs are needed. The ideal goal of occupational nursing is to avoid seeing workplace injuries by eliminating them, of course, but nurses still need to be prepared to deal with them.
Work-related injuries can cost employers a great deal of money. Hiring an occupational health specialist may require out of pocket expenditure, but it will generate savings in the long term by reducing such injuries and keeping the workplace as a whole much healthier. Occupational health nursing professionals can also work in environments like clinics which specialize in the treatment of such injuries, providing customized care to people who have been injured at work, and they can work for government agencies and insurance companies, researching workplace injuries, determining their cause, and deciding who or what is responsible.