Knowledge of health promotion and education is desirable as well as an understanding of health and safety issues, health screening, stress management and basic first aid.
Membership of the RCN public health nursing forum can provide a useful means of keeping up to date with current developments. Attending occupational health conferences also provides the opportunity to network with nurses working within this field.
Specialist occupational health nurses undertake an additional period of formal study in occupational health, leading to a recognised specialist degree in occupational health nursing. For more information, see: Specialist community public health nursing (SCPHN)
Public Health England has launched guidance for educating occupational health nurses. As well as setting out the recommended approach for nurse education going forward, this document incorporates ‘general prompts’ for HEIs and lecturers in assessing and refreshing occupational health nursing educational programmes. It also lists the necessary ‘theory, knowledge and skills’ that must be included into education programmes to ensure excellent, high quality occupational health services.
National oversight and coordination of training for occupational health nurses is provided by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which maintains a register of specialist community and public health nurses. Nurses with a qualification in occupational health are distinguished as specialists in – ‘Community and Public Health – OH’.
Over the past 20 years the role of the occupational health nurse has changed from that of an industrial nurse dealing with accidents and illness at work and providing a treatment and first-aid service to a role that encompasses all aspects of preventative health care as a specialist community public health nurse.
Occupational health is preventative rather than curative and proactive rather than reactive.
The role of the occupational health nurse must change in line with globalization, the changing economy, changing patterns of employment, changing attitudes and changing health risks (Kenny, 1999).
It is recognised that being in work has a positive impact on health and wellbeing. It is important to appropriately manage sickness and absence and to support people to return to work as soon as possible.
Fit for Work is a Government funded initiative designed to support people in work with health conditions and help with sickness absence. The campaign recognises that being in work contributes significantly to good health. The longer someone is off sick, the harder it is for them to get back to work. Being out of work for long periods of time is damaging to social and financial well-being as well as health. Fit for Work is an advice line service providing support for GPs, employers and employees to help those who are in work and off sick. For England, Wales and Scotland, see: England & Wales and Scotland.
In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Civil Service Centre for workplace health has launched the Health & Wellbeing Programme with advice on managing attendance and fitness for work, and it also provides advice on fitness for work. There is also advice from Invest NI.
Occupational health nurses provide a variety of vaccines including staff flu vaccinations. The RCN has further information on vaccination and immunisation.
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have further advice but nurses are not able to carry out statutory medical examinations where it is specified that these must be done by a medical practitioner, for example for asbestos and ionising radiation medicals.