How to Become an Occupational Health Nurse (With Steps)

Updated September 1, 2022

Within the profession of nursing, there's an entire specialty dedicated to workplace or industrial health and safety. An occupational health nurse works to prevent injury, treat workplace accidents, and provide training to companies and employees on healthy work conditions. Understanding the profession of being an occupational health nurse can help you decide if this is the right career for you. In this article, we discuss how to become an occupational health nurse by understanding what the job entails, highlighting the skills required, learning about the work conditions of the profession, and identifying the specific steps you need to take.

Explore jobs on Indeed
Part-time jobs
View more jobs on Indeed

How to become an occupational health nurse

When determining how to become an occupational health nurse, there are many factors to consider. For example, it's important to develop specialized skills and attend specific academic training. It can also be beneficial to understand the duties and responsibilities of an occupational health nurse to ensure it is the best career choice for you. Finally, when choosing occupational health nursing as a career, ensure you enjoy working in an industrial environment, helping organizations to provide a healthy and safe workplace. There are several steps to complete when becoming an occupational health nurse, including:

1. Complete a nursing degree

The first step to becoming an occupational health nurse is to obtain a nursing degree. To do this, you complete a minimum of four years in post-secondary school, gaining a bachelor's degree in nursing. There are universities across the country that offer excellent academic programs for nursing. You learn about medical and surgical nursing, biological and social sciences, and professional ethics. During your degree, you also experience hands-on clinical practice. Once you complete your nursing degree, you are a generalist nurse.

2. Become a registered nurse (RN)

The next step on your journey is to become a registered nurse or RN. Once you've completed your nursing degree, you can apply to write the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam. A passing grade on this national exam is a requirement for registration within your province of practice. Each region has a governing body that provides registration to nurses to ensure that the quality of training, knowledge, and clinical practice remains consistent and high-quality to protect the profession and public. Once completing the exam and registering in your province, you can practice as a registered nurse.

Related: What Does a Registered Nurse Do? (With How to Become One)

3. Take a certificate program in occupational health nursing

Once you have your registered nurse designation, you can continue your education by taking a certificate program in occupational health nursing. This program teaches you specific occupational health and safety knowledge that you can use every day in your career. For example, the certificate teaches you about workplace injuries and prevention, wellness programs, and occupational health and safety regulations. The program is usually less than a year to complete.

4. Complete your certification exam

The last step to becoming an occupational health nurse is to get your Canadian Certification in Occupational Health (COHN-C) through the Canadian Nurses Association. Once you complete the required exam, the association certifies you as an occupational health nurse that remains valid for five years. This is the preferred standard for employment in this profession in Canada. Once you receive this certification, you are an RN and a COHN-C and can use both designations on your resume and professional profile.

What does an occupational health nurse do?

An occupational health nurse, also referred to as an industrial nurse, is a registered nurse specializing in occupational health and safety. They help treat, care for, and rehabilitate workers who are ill or injured on the job. An occupational health nurse also works with organizations to provide education and training on workplace health and safety protocols and safe work practices. They can also work with companies to develop employee wellness programs or give recommendations to personnel departments on employees' work capabilities, such as fit-for-work assessments.

Some of the primary duties of an occupational health nurse include:

  • complete testing or screening services, such as ergonomic assessment, drug and alcohol testing, pulmonary function testing, audiometric testing, or blood pressure screening

  • assess and treat work-related illnesses and injuries

  • perform emergency care on-site and arrange for further medical care as needed

  • perform fit-for-work testing for specific jobs in the workplace

  • offer health counselling and support and provide referrals to other medical or health care professionals, such as psychologists, physical therapists, or general physicians

  • work with company management to create, implement, and manage wellness programs, such as fitness programs, vaccination programs, or workplace safety training

  • ensure compliance with provincial workplace health and safety regulations and worker's compensation boards

  • assist with managing short- and long-term disability cases, such as arranging for insurance or health care coverage, ongoing rehabilitation, and return-to-work protocols

  • work in collaboration with a company's health and safety team to identify workplace hazards and make suggestions to minimize injuries and accidents

  • collect workplace data to evaluate the success and effectiveness of workplace health and safety programs

What skills does an occupational health nurse need?

A competent occupational health nurse needs a combination of skills to perform the duties and responsibilities of their position. Some of these skills include:

Patience and empathy

An occupational health nurse requires patience and empathy when working with patients. This is especially important when dealing with sickness and injuries in the workplace or helping patients recover and get back to work. Patience is essential when assessing and treating patients in pain or distress and allows you to take calm action. Empathy allows you to put yourself in the place of another to understand their fears and concerns.

Related: 8 Essential Skills to Include In Nursing Resumes

Problem-solving and critical thinking

An occupational health nurse can solve complex problems and critically think when assessing a patient's condition or injury. You use these skills when diagnosing a workplace injury, creating a treatment plan, or evaluating the effectiveness of a wellness program. Problem-solving and critical thinking skills allow you to gather all the information available, reason, and come to an educated decision to move forward with the situation.

Read more: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Strong speaking and written communication

As an occupational health nurse, you advocate for workplace health and safety while being a role model for wellness. To share your message effectively, you develop strong speaking and written communication skills. For example, you may provide training and education presentations to groups of employees or company executives. In addition, you may create literature for new employee orientation or within an organization's wellness program.

Organizational and analytical skills

As an occupational health nurse, you can work with a variety of people and levels of management. Staying organized in various health and safety programs, gathering data, and maintaining confidential medical records is critical to success. You also require strong analytical skills to determine what programs or protocols work well and what needs improvement. Analytical skill is also important when working with a patient to determine the cause of injury or illness.

Related: What are Technical Skills in Nursing? (With Tips to Improve)

What are the working conditions of an occupational health nurse?

The working condition of an occupational health nurse can vary depending on the employer. For example, a large company may have an occupational health nurse on staff who works out of an office in the organization's head office and travels from location to location. They can also work for a government department or agency, such as a worker's compensation board. An occupational health nurse can also work for a hospital or medical clinic specializing in workplace injuries.

Hours of work also depend on the work environment. For example, if working in an industrial setting, you may need to work evenings and weekends based on the production shifts of the company. If working in a clinic or hospital, you can work weekday hours. An occupational health nurse can also travel to various locations if a company has multiple work sites.

Upgrade your resume
Showcase your skills with help from a resume expert

Average salary and outlook

The average salary of an occupational health nurse varies depending on geographic location, company, skills, experience, and work setting, such as a hospital, industrial environment, or office. According to Indeed, the average national salary for an occupational health nurse is $68,973 per year. Other factors to consider include union contracts and overtime hours worked. The career path of an occupational health nurse looks vital for the next several years.

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, the availability of occupational health nurses' jobs over the next three years looks fair to good across the country. Because of a large ageing population and the increased use of new technologies in treating disease, there is expected to be a shortage of qualified occupational health nurses to fill positions in the next decade. This makes becoming an occupational health nurse an excellent career choice for long-term growth.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing.

Explore your next job opportunity on IndeedFind jobs

Explore more articles

  • What Is a Photojournalist? (Skills and How-to)
  • 11 Jobs for Physical Therapists and Their Primary Duties
  • Learn about Plumbing Companies in Edmonton, Alberta
  • What Does an Associate Project Manager Do? (Plus Salary)
  • 13 Organizations Offering Data Entry Freelance Jobs
  • What Is a Job Consultancy? (With a List of Recruiters)
  • Steps to Change Your Career Path at Any Age (With Benefits)
  • Videographer vs. Cinematographer: What's the Difference?
  • How to Become a Manager In Health Care (With Skills)
  • Explaining the Meaning of CSO (And How to Become One)
  • What Are Job Boards? (With Tips on How To Use One)
  • Product Manager vs. Project Manager: What's the Difference?