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Ready to take on safety role? It's part of "job enlargement"
Safety expertise will make you more valuable
As an occupational health professional, you need to have skills and competencies in clinical and primary care, case management, environmental issues, regulatory and legislative issues, disease prevention, and health promotion.
But your role soon might expand even further to include safety, as companies face increasing financial pressures.
"Many employers are looking for ways to increase their return on investment in their employees, while concurrently maintaining the organization's productivity," according to Pam Hart, MPH, RN, COHN-S, CSP, director of safety and wellness at Doherty Employment Group, an Edina, MN-based firm providing staffing and human resource outsourcing. "They are delegating additional responsibilities to occupational health nurses, outside of their traditional role."
In today's volatile business climate, an expanded safety role is "a positive thing," says Hart. "Being willing to take on new job challenges or learn new skills, as a company downsizes or combines job tasks into one position, could make the difference between saving your job or being laid off."
There is no question that in occupational health, "people are being stretched, with many responsibilities, and with much on their plate," says Christine R. Zichello, RN, COHN-S, CSHM, ARM, FAAOHN, senior risk control specialist at PMA Companies' Mount Laurel, NJ, branch office.
Zichello says she is seeing "an awful lot of occupational health nurses not only doing the triaging of injured employees, but also taking a safety role. They are overseeing both."
Prepare for safety role
Occupational health nurses are "feeling unprepared" for the safety role, Hart says. "Safety has long been considered an engineering field, and many nurses are intimidated by this," she says.
In reality, however, occupational health professionals follow the same steps as safety professionals do in problem solving, says Hart: Assessing a problem, developing an intervention, implementing the intervention, and measuring the outcome. "The occupational health nurse can be very successful in the safety field," she says.
Think of your new safety role as "job enlargement" instead of downsizing, advises Zichello. "Instead of saying, 'Now they making me do this or that,' say 'This is an opportunity to learn something that makes me more valuable.'" To prepare, Zichello strongly recommends taking the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN)'s Safety Management certification exam and obtaining an associate in risk management certification. This certification is offered by the Insurance Institute of America. "There are three exams, and it took me six months per exam to do," she acknowledges. "But it gives you a real clear understanding of the risk management side of the house."
If you want more advanced engineering skills, Zichello recommends obtaining a Certificate in Safety Management or Executive Program in Safety Management certification from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).
Armed with these certifications, you can "make your own opportunities," says Zichello -- provided you prove your value to upper management. "You just have to be able to document what you have accomplished," she says. "It's easy to document, but people just don't do it or see the need for it."
In addition to certifications, Zichello advises enhancing your safety skills by participating in local, state, and national educational opportunities offered by AAOHN and ASSE. "Also, participate in web-based training programs offered by suppliers of safety equipment or colleges and universities."
For more information on new roles in occupational health, contact:
Pam Hart, MPH, RN, COHN-S, CSP, Director of Safety and Wellness, Doherty Employment Group, Edina, MN. Phone: (952) 832-8324. E-mail: PHart@DohertyEmployment.com.
Christine R. Zichello, RN, COHN-S, CSHM, ARM, FAAOHN, Senior Risk Control Specialist, PMA Companies, Mount Laurel, NJ. Phone: (610) 304-3298. Fax: (973) 492-2823. E-mail: Christine_Zichello@PMAGroup.com.
For more information on the Safety Management certificate program, contact the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Atlanta. Phone: (770) 455-7757. Fax: (770) 455-7271. Web: www.aaohn.org. Under "Continuing Education," click on "Certificate Programs."
For more information on obtaining an associate in risk management certification, contact the Insurance Institute of America, Malvern, PA. Phone: (800) 644-2101. Fax: (610) 640-9576. E-mail: email@example.com. Web: www.aicpcu.org. Click on "2009 Registration Booklet."
For more information on the Certificate in Safety Management and Executive Program in Safety Management certificate programs, contact the American Society of Safety Engineers, Des Plaines, IL. Phone: (847) 699-2929. Fax: (847) 768-3434. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.asse.org. Under the "Professional Development" heading, click on "Cert. Programs."