NurseBlogs: Occupational Health Nursing

NurseBlogs: Occupational Health Nursing

They deal with everything from chemical exposure to workers' comp claims to malaria shots.

By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN
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IT WAS THE CENTER FOR NURSING ADVOCACY (www.nursingadvocacy.org) and Sandy Summers who first made me sit up and notice the attention (or lack of it) paid by the general media to the field of nursing.

Now, when I see nurses recognized I feel compelled to point it out to others. So here’s to you, occupational health nurses across the country, and thank you from employees everywhere for safeguarding workers’ health.

This tribute was brought on by a cover story I read in the Science and Health section of The New York Times on Feb. 5, 2008, about a neurological problem occurring at pork processing plants. It was the occupational health nurses there who recognized the trend, referred the patients back to their own physicians, and were able to get the state epidemiologists involved.

In my narrow-minded way I had thought of those nurses as ones who enjoyed working regular hours while being capable of handing out Band-Aids and calling 9-1-1 for the real emergencies. They undoubtedly deserve my apology, because theirs is a body of specialized knowledge that goes far beyond that. OSHA has an alliance with the American Association of Occupational Health Nursing and they state that occupational health nurses must “independently observe and assess the workers’ health status with respect to job tasks and hazards; recognize and prevent health effects from hazardous exposure and treat workers’ injuries.”

In addition, at most sites they are also responsible for accident reporting/investigating and completing workers’ compensation claim forms for injuries received on the job. They need to be able to recognize and treat chemical exposures and to advise workers on how to avoid or reduce repetitive strains, something that can eventually lead to disability and economic loss to both employee and employer. They have their own association, The American Board of Occupational Health Nurses, whose website is www.abohn.org.

Last week I attended an intensive three-day session in travel medication, another avenue for occupational health nursing. Many companies now have international units, so nurses with travel medication skills can help employees prepare for trips abroad by administering the necessary immunizations and ordering anti-malarials, antibiotics for travelers diarrhea, and medication to mitigate altitude sickness. All this can be accomplished under standing orders from their medical director. In addition, who better than nurses to give travel advice/education about local disease risks and prevention, safety, and even how to arrange for medical evacuation if necessary.

If this sounds interesting to you, the CDC has a comprehensive website for travelers to whet your appetite even more—www.cdc.gov. Click on travelers’ health.

Christine Contillo RN, BSN, has worked as a nurse since 1979 and has written extensively for various nursing publications as well as
The New York Times.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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