We investigate the relationship between occupational health nurses and human resources and ask whether an effective occupational health service can really improve the wellbeing of an organisation’s employees. About Matt Farrah - follow me on Google+

Occupational health nursing is a specialism just as any other area such as paediatric nursing or surgical and medical nursing, but an occupational health job is not usually based in a clinical environment. Occupational health nurses usually come from adult or mental health branch and they all have a particular interest in wellbeing and health promotion within the workplace.

An occupational health nurse could either be employed directly by a company or be contracted in through a service that the company has purchased from the NHS. Either way they are responsible for managing the health of the workforce, and for managing long term illness and capability situations. NHS employed occupational health nurses are also employed to manage the NHS workforce and ensure every member of staff has access to an occupational health nurse before and during their employment.

Responsibilities of an Occupational Health Nurse

An occupational health nursing job role involves a great deal of pro-active planning to help prevent health difficulties in the workplace. There is a wide variety of activities that are involved in this task, and it’s common that an occupational health nursing team will have contact with every employee within the company. The nature of the industry and the level of hazardous activity will influence the level of occupational health service provided. In some particularly hazardous industries there are full time doctors and nurses on call at all times to manage any health situations as they occur.

New employee health checks are common place to ensure that any pre-existing conditions are managed properly and that should any absences occur in the future, the occupational health nursing team are fully aware of the situation. Workplace assessments are also carried out by an occupational health nurse in order to identify any health and safety risks that could affect the health of the employee.

Once an employee is working for the company they will be able to access all other occupational health services provided by the employer. This may include healthy eating options in the canteen, reduced rate gym membership or free use of on site fitness facilities, regular stress management sessions or counseling sessions. Some organisations also offer alternative therapies in conjunction with occupational health management, which can improve wellbeing and decrease absence.

Responsibilities of the Human Resources team

A human resources department can encompass several HR professionals or less than five depending on the size of the company. In some cases, all human resources activity is outsourced and there isn’t an internal HR team at all. Human resources covers the recruitment, retention and working practices of all employees within the company.

An HR department is also responsible for managing effective policies and practices that ensure a safe and people-friendly working environment in order to maximise potential and return on investment. They will arrange in house training, keep employees up to date with current legislation affecting their work or working environment, and liaise with an occupational health team to manage employee absences.

The achievements of an effective Occupational Health service

An occupational health nursing team can provide a huge range of health services including screening, basic testing, monitoring and health promotion initiatives, all of which can really improve the health of the workforce. Managing the overall wellbeing of staff members can reduce sickness, absence and promote productivity.

In 2009 the average level of employee absence fell from 8.0 days the previous year to 7.4 days per employee(1), which left the overall cost per employee absence at £692. The public sector still has by far the largest level of absences, with the fewest absences occurring in in the private sector. However, only 41% of all organisations surveyed monitored the cost of absence and assigned a value to it.

An occupational health nurse can have a direct impact the financial return of a company by helping to reduce the cost of employee absence and health & safety related claims. Under a correctly managed occupational health scheme every employee should have a point of contact, usually with an occupational health nurse, to discuss any concerns they have about the safety of their working routine or environment.

An effective occupational health team can also help to influence inter-departmental cooperation and in particular encourage management involvement in the workforce. Happy and healthy employees can have an enormous influence over the productivity and long term profitability of a company. By involving managers in the process of addressing concerns and optimising working routines, an occupational health nurse can also increase understanding and colleague cooperation.

How to get a job as an Occupational Health Nurse

An occupational health nurse is a qualified nurse with an NMC pin number, and can come from any branch of nursing but especially from adult and mental health. The are postgraduate qualifications in occupational health run by several universities in the UK, but these are not mandatory in order to work as an occupational health nurse.

Many occupational health nursing jobs offer working hours similar to usual office hours with a minimum of shift work, if any at all required. Some nurses prefer to have set working hours, and occupational health nursing is one specialism that can offer this. There are also a wide range of opportunities in both the public and private sectors, and senior occupational health nurses can demand salaries starting at band 7 in the NHS or equivalent to £30,460.


1. CIPD Annual Survey Report 2009 on Absence Management

Read our other articles about occupational health jobs:

Occupational Health Nursing Jobs in the Private Sector & NHS

Occupational Therapy and Occupational Health Nursing

Marisa Stevenson - Lecturer in Occupational Health Nursing