AAOHN policy platform pushes healthy lifestyle

Employer incentives, nurse safety on list

Wellness and disease prevention remain at the top of the list of areas of emphasis and concern for occupational health nurses, as reflected by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses’ (AAOHN) 2005 public policy platform.

But the efforts of occupational health nurses shouldn’t just be on wellness and disease prevention in the workplace, says AAOHN president Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN. Employees’ lifestyles have direct impact on their wellness and ability to work, so AAOHN is urging its members to help employees with lifestyle issues that become workplace issues.

Smoking, obesity, and other nonwork-related lifestyle issues can play big roles in an employee’s wellness at work, and in deciding on the areas the association should emphasize this year, AAOHN directors included lifestyle education and screenings.

Because monitoring of and education about health issues such diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, smoking, stress, and fitness have been shown to improve health, increase workers’ productivity, and yield significant return on employers’ investments, AAOHN is urging national policy that directs more attention to health promotion, disease prevention, and lifestyle improvement programs as means of reducing health care costs.

"One of our major goals is to help secure legislation that will reward employers for implementing employee health and wellness programs," says Randolph. "In doing so, we are addressing some of the most critical issues facing the workplace — the need to improve employee health and therefore reduce health care costs.

"[Occupational health nurses] have always taken a lead role in managing this challenge, so we hope to heighten visibility and awareness for these issues in a public policy context."

Reward employers, attract nurses

AAOHN also is focusing its public policy efforts on the nation’s nursing shortage.

"Many of the current efforts surrounding the nursing shortage involve a pipeline approach of addressing salaries, funding, training, and education to recruit more people to the profession," Randolph stated. "While AAOHN supports this approach, we also recognize that much of the current problem is rooted in retaining nurses once they’re employed. To do this effectively, we have to provide for a healthier, safer work environment in hospitals, clinics, or any place where nurses and other health care professionals are employed."

According to a 2003 report by the Institute of Medicine, better nursing staff levels result in safer client care; but according to the AAOHN policy statement, health and safety risks to nurses are key factors in the nursing shortage.

Occupational health professionals always are going to be concerned with patient confidentiality, Randolph says, and that is reflected in the 2005 policy platform.

Most laws pertaining to privacy of workers’ health information are state-based, so AAOHN is calling for comprehensive federal legislation to provide universal security standards and safeguards that protect the integrity and confidentiality of personal health information.

Workplace violence prevention is a policy platform carried over from last year. Randolph says there remains a need for education and training in the workplace, as AAOHN studies indicate a majority of the workforce can’t recognize the warning signs of workplace violence. Occupational health nurses, the association says, are in a prime position to conduct organizational risk assessments and develop and implement violence prevention programs in the workplace.

Likewise, those in occupational health should play critical roles in helping employers and communities plan for and respond to large-scale hazards, whether they be epidemics of communicable diseases, or natural or man-made disasters.

Occupational health nurses are trained in emergency planning, injury prevention, loss control, health surveillance, safety awareness, post-accident reviews, evaluation of protective equipment and machinery, and delivery of services — all of which, Randolph says, are critical needs before, during, and after a disaster.

Because some occupational health nurses, as well as nurses in other specialty areas, find it necessary to practice in more than one state, whether in person or via electronic communication, AAOHN is throwing its support behind the Nurse Licensure Compact, a mutual recognition model by which a nurse’s state of residence issues his or her nursing license, which is then recognized by other states that have entered into an interstate compact with the state of residence. Nurses residing in compact states would be able to practice in other compact states without applying for separate licenses.

AAOHN drafts its annual policy platform based on past years’ platforms and feedback from association members.

For more information, contact:

  • Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, President, American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, 2920 Brandywine Road, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30341. Phone: (770) 455-7757. Internet: www.aaohn.org.