OHAs can help managers manage sickness absence better. A nurse might be involved in training line managers and supervisors on how to use the OH service. This includes how to refer staff, what information is required, and what to expect from occupational healthcare. The OHA can help employees who are referred to for evaluation due to sickness absence by creating transparent referral procedures and ensuring medical confidentiality is maintained.
OH nurses are often able to provide advice on preventing sickness absence by advising management because of their close relationships with employees, knowledge about the work environment, and trends in ill health in the company. Referring to General Practitioners is not a good option for work-related issues. I have found that it is more effective to keep the GP informed and refer to an occupational specialist.
Employees who are absent due to injury or illness can be safely returned to work if they have planned rehabilitation strategies. A nurse, along with the employee and manager, will complete a risk assessment and develop a rehabilitation program. They will also monitor progress and communicate with individual, the OH physician, and the line manager. Nursing has also been involved in proactive rehabilitation strategies, which aim to detect changes in health early before they lead to absence from work. It is possible to improve and sustain work ability, which benefits all parties, including the individual, the company, and the society. This saves money and helps avoid costly absences and other health care costs.
The OH nurse is often required to act as the client’s advocate within an organization in order for managers to fully appreciate the importance of improving the health and well-being of their employees. OH nurses may have special interests and the necessary skills to perform this job.
An occupational health nurse might develop proactive strategies to support the workforce in restoring or maintaining their work ability. Workers who are new, older, returning from pregnancy, or those who have been out of work for a long time, may benefit from health advice and a plan of work hardening exercises. This will help them to maintain or restore their work capacity, even before any health issues arise. Industry is facing increasing problems of a psychosocial nature. These can be more complicated and expensive to address. OH nurses at company level are well placed to advise management on strategies to improve psycho-social health.
Safety and health
OHA may be able to help with the development of safety and health strategies. If large or high-risk organizations have in-house safety and health specialists, the OHA can collaborate with them to ensure that their expertise in health, risk assessment and health surveillance is fully integrated into the safety and health strategy. The occupational health nurses are skilled in the management of workplace hazards, health legislation and risk management. They can also make a valuable contribution to overall safety and health management, with a particular focus on health risk assessment.
Nurses often have close contact with workers and are aware of any changes in the work environment. The nurses are well-versed in health effects of work and can help with hazard identification. New processes or work practices may create hazards. Or, the nurse may be able to identify and assess the risk from informal changes in existing processes and work practices. To keep current knowledge and practices in place, this activity requires regular visits to the workplace by the occupational nurse.
European legislation is being driven more by a risk management approach. OHA’s are trained to risk assessment and risk management strategies. Depending on their expertise and level of complexity, nurses can either perform risk assessments or collaborate with other specialists.
Tips on controlling
After being involved in the risk assessment and hazard identification, the occupational health nurse can provide information and advice within the limitations of their education and training on control strategies. This includes monitoring and evaluation of control strategies.
OHA specialists use research findings from many disciplines such as psychology, nursing, toxicology and environmental health in their everyday practice. An occupational health nurse must be able to critically evaluate research findings from different disciplines. They also need to be able incorporate these findings into an evidence-based approach to their work. The field of nursing research is well-established. Occupational health nursing researchers are creating evidence that focuses on occupational health nursing practices. OHAs need to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to be able to base their practice upon the best evidence. OSHA nurses can be responsible for producing reports at the company level on things like sickness absence trends, accident statistics and assessment of health promotion needs. They also may help in the evaluation of the delivery of services and the effectiveness of occupational healthcare interventions. This role requires research skills as well as the ability to transfer knowledge from published research into practice.