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Occupational Health Nurses

Published on December 18, 2009.

Job Duties

Occupational health nurses combine knowledge of public health with understanding of nursing principals to help prevent workplace illnesses and injuries. Employee health issues cost businesses in the U.S. upwards of $1 trillion per year, so the contribution occupational health nurses make is highly valued. They contribute to productivity, saving money for employers and safeguarding the health of workers.

The work of an occupational health nurse has two main focuses: response and prevention. They provide first aid for minor injuries, arrange for further medical assistance if required, and write accident reports. They also work with employers to identify and prevent potential health problems resulting from workplace activities. Their job duties include providing counseling, carrying out health examinations, administering vaccinations, addressing accessibility issues for workers with disabilities, helping employers meet health and safety standards, and advising on workers' compensation issues. Occupational health workers are employed in most types of businesses, from hospitals to manufacturing plants.

Job Skills

The main skills required to work as an occupational health nurse include strong communication skills and the ability to make sound decisions based on observations. It is important for occupational health nurses to work well as part of a team and to be confident in supervising others. A sympathetic disposition and emotional stability are important attributes due to the personal and sometimes stressful type of work that occupational health nurses undertake.


In 2008, registered nurses, including occupational health nurses, earned a median annual wage of $62,450, with the top ten percent of earners taking home over $92,240 and the lowest ten percent earning under $43,410, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Median annual wages for occupational health and safety specialists were $62,250 in 2008, while occupational health and safety technicians earned median annual wages of $45,360.

Training and Education

All 50 States and the District of Columbia require nurses to hold a license, which is gained through graduation from an approved nursing program and passing a national examination. Most registered nurses enter the profession by gaining either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. Although it is less common, a diploma from an approved nursing program can also be the start of a career in nursing.

Bachelor's degrees in nursing (BSN) take four years to complete and are offered by colleges and universities across the U.S. A BSN provides graduates with the greatest opportunity for advancement within the nursing profession. Associate's degrees in nursing (ADN) take 2 to 3 years to complete and are offered by junior and community colleges. Diploma programs are administered by hospitals and take three years to complete. All three types of qualification lead to qualification as a registered nurse. Many nurses certified through ADN or diploma programs go on to enter bachelor's programs.

Occupational health nurses can gain certification through the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc. (AAOHN). To gain certification, nurses must complete 4,000 hours of work experience and 50 hours of continuing education in addition to their nursing license.


Registered nurses are the largest healthcare occupation. In 2008, registered nurses held approximately 2.5 million jobs. Together, occupational health and safety specialists and technicians help over 60,000 jobs in 2008. with the more highly trained specialists comprising the bulk of that group.

Job Outlook

Projected employment growth for registered nurses in the decade 2006-2016 is much greater than the average for all occupations at 23 percent. Employment growth for registered nurses is driven in part by the need to replace nurses leaving the occupation. Other factors influencing employment growth include increased emphasis on preventative treatment, a growing elderly population, and technological advances that enable treatment of a greater number of health problems.

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