How to Become an Occupational Health Nurse: Salary, Job Description

Nurse works with patientAn occupational health nurse deals with job-related wellness issues. The occupational health nurse focuses on employee health, protection from work-related and environmental hazards and prevention of illness and injury in the workforce. A nurse in this position helps workers avoid employment-related illnesses and injuries.  An occupational health nurse works closely with employers to ensure that health and safety standards are being met.

Occupational health nurses work as clinicians, case managers, consultants, educators or corporate directors.

Table of Contents
How to Become an Occupational Health Nurse
Education Requirements
Occupational Health Nurse Job Description
Personality Traits
Career Options
Occupational Health Nurse Certification
Professional Organizations

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information specific to the field of the occupational health nurse but the government organization does offer an overview of registered nurses who may work in this capacity.

Nurse Salary and Employment Data

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Level of Education Required Associate Degree or Bachelor Degree in Nursing
Board Examinations needed NCLEX-RN, RN-BC
Average Salary $63,472
# of Jobs (2008) 19,000
Job Outlook (2012 to 2022) 19% growth for RNs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Salary information courtesy of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses
Job numbers courtesy of Helio:

How to become an occupational health nurse

To become an occupational health nurse, the individual:

  • Must have an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and have passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • May pursue additional education in business management, infection control and emergency medicine
  • May pursue voluntary certification from the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc.

Education requirements

To become an occupational health nurse, the individual must get an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Registered nurses may work in occupational health after graduation from an accredited nursing school and licensure.

While nurses with an associate’s degree may work as occupational health nurses, nurses entering this field usually have a baccalaureate degree in nursing and prior work experience in community health or other areas of nursing. Many have already earned master’s degrees, especially in public health or business. All states require a license to practice.

Occupational health nurses may seek certification that demonstrates advanced training and knowledge of occupational and environmental health issues. Certification requires at least 3,000 hours of experience in occupational health.

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Job description

Job descriptions for occupational health nurses vary widely. These nurses may act as clinicians, educators, case managers, and as consultants or directors for companies.

Job duties for an occupational health nurse (OHN) include case management to coordinate and manage the care of ill or injured workers, counseling and crisis intervention for issues such as substance abuse and psychosocial needs. The OHN provides health promotion and risk reduction initiatives that decrease the workers’ risk for injury and illnesses, such as smoking cessation, proper lifting techniques, immunizations and stress management. The occupational health nurse works to help workers remain healthy and productive.

The occupational health nurse ensures compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other state and federal regulations involving the workplace, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

An occupational health nurse also works to recognize and identify worker and workplace hazards. The OHN monitors, evaluates and analyzes these hazards then uses the information to implement preventative measures that reduce work-related accidents and illnesses.

Personality traits:

  • Independent
  • Attention to detail
  • Compassionate
  • Analytical

It varies between institutions but an occupational health nurse frequently reports to the human resources department.

Career options

Typical workplaces for an occupational health nurse include:

  • Hospitals
  • Public health clinics
  • Private practices
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Educational institutions
  • Factories
  • Medium and large corporations

Job outlook for occupational health nurses is good as companies hire more employees. Since OHNs improve worker productivity by reducing illness and accidents in the workplace, many companies are adding occupational health nurses positions.

Job opportunities for occupational health nurses are greater in urban areas featuring large companies and factories.

Certification information

The American Board of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc. (ABOHN) is the sole certifying body for occupational health nurses in the United States. ABOHN offers two certifications for occupational health nurses: Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) and Certified Occupational Health Nurse-Specialist (COHN-S). Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) requires an associate degree in nursing or higher while the nurse-specialist (COHN-S) degree requires a bachelor’s degree or higher. Both require 3,000 hours in occupational health within five years of application or completion of a certificate program in occupational health nursing for academic credit.

The organization provides certification after the qualified applicant passes a written exam. COHN examination focuses on direct clinical care while the COHN-S examination focuses on the roles of management, consultation, education and case management.

Recertification is required every five years.

Professional organizations

American Association of Occupational Health Nurses:

American Board of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc.: