Look beyond your role in workers' comp

When Emily Wallace, RN, BS, COHN-S, currently a Sanford, NC-based occupational health consultant, began her career as an occupational health nurse in the clinic of a large textile firm in Georgia with over 2000 employees and a terrible safety record, she learned something very quickly.

"At that time, as today, management was interested in the bottom line," she says. "I realized immediately that workers' compensation cost was a key to getting senior leaders' attention." Traditionally, the occupational health nurse's role had been limited to providing nursing care to employees.

As the senior nurse, however, Wallace began working collaboratively with other leaders. First, she obtained cost information from the financial department. At a safety committee meeting, she reported workers' compensation costs.

"Prior to this meeting, I had assessed the current safety program looking for ways to prevent illness and injury and lower workers' compensation cost," says Wallace. "I was prepared to not only report cost, but to present ways to reduce this cost." Wallace used these approaches:

• She expanded on the traditional occupational health nursing functions. "This is necessary to make an impression on senior leaders," says Wallace. "Learn more about the finances of the company. Look for ways to expand your role."

• She took a holistic view of employee health. "I realized that prevention of accident and illness is preventative medicine," she says. Wallace developed an exercise program for employees, which was a first at the time.

Wallace was promoted to director of occupational health and safety for the division, reporting to the division plant manager. Shortly after, she presented the company's safety program to the Georgia Textile Manufacturers Association when they received the annual safety reward for 1,000,000 man hours without a lost time injury.

"I realized early on that occupational health had to get upper management's support in order to get middle and first line managers to buy into the safety and health of employees," says Wallace. "Also, don't forget the employees. They must believe that management not only supports, but is involved with, their safety and health."


For more information about the occupational health role in compliance, contact:

• Diane DeGaetano, RN, BSN, COHN-S, COHC, Occupational Health Manager, Merial Limited, Duluth, GA. Phone: (678) 772-7734. E-mail: diane.degaetano@merial.com.