Occupational Health Nurses: An essential component for Total Worker Health

I first understood the importance of including occupational health nurses in holistic workplace discussions back in 1984, long before the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) had coined the term Total Worker Health. As I worked through my first case study about a fictitious battery manufacturer with classmates, I didn’t recognize at the time how fortunate I was in my NIOSH-funded Education Research Center training (at the University of Washington) to work as a team with occupational health nurses, occupational health physicians, and epidemiologists, in addition to those of us learning to be safety and health professionals and industrial hygienists. In today’s world, we might add occupational health psychologists and those studying human resources and management into this mix. Over the years it has been a no brainer (as my dad would have said) to ensure that our discussions about how to best protect and support workers integrate the knowledge, skills, and abilities of all of these professions and experiences.

Last Friday, as I presented on Total Worker Health® to attendees at the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP), I shared my belief that occupational health nurses truly get Total Worker Health, and are well-versed to play a critical role in assisting organizations to move forward with Total Worker Health initiatives. As I shared my experience, that often organizations forget how much value, knowledge and skills occupational health nurses can add to this movement, by over-filling their time (with vaccinations and fit-testing) or cutting their services, I saw and heard a lot of agreement from attendees. And while those of us who are industrial hygienists or safety professionals may feel uncomfortable, and importantly rely on our human resources and medical teams to ensure that we protect confidentiality and data, our occupational health nurses are not only knowledgeable and experienced, but comfortable in this element. For after all, the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) describes an occupational health nurse as someone who “provides for and delivers health and safety programs and services to workers, worker populations and community groups, as well as someone who may conduct research on the effects of workplace exposures, gathering health and hazard data.”

I appreciate the opportunity to spend a day trading notes with members of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of AOHP, and benefiting from an impressively planned and conducted full-day event. Hats off those who coordinated this event, especially Chapter President Andrea Dayot. I look forward to sharing more conversations and ideas as we integrate our knowledge, skills and resources to move ahead in Total Worker Health.

Resources:
Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP)
Oregon State Association of Occupational Health Nurses (OSAOHN)
American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN)

Images credit: Pacific Northwest Chapter AOHP.

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