A New Safety Credential is Born

Recognition that occupational health nurses have more safety responsibilities brought about the OHN Safety Manager exam.

IN order to succeed in today's competitive world, health and safety professionals may find the need to expand their skill sets and credentials. Companies are often seeking a generalist who can address a variety of health, safety, and environmental issues instead of hiring several different specialists. As licensed professionals, occupational health nurses are uniquely positioned to expand their practice into the safety and environmental disciplines.

Traditionally, occupational health nurses have sought recognition for their capabilities by certification as an occupational health nurse (COHN) or occupational health nurse specialist (COHN-S). The blueprints for these certification examinations, offered by the American Board of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc. (ABOHN), include this specialized nursing practice, as well as elements of safety, industrial hygiene, and environmental health. Despite this broad content and the fact that occupational health nurses often fill a variety of health and safety roles, a credential has not been available specifically to recognize nurses who perform safety, industrial hygiene, or environmental health functions.

To determine interest in a possible future sub-specialty certification, ABOHN conducted an informal needs assessment in June 2002. Surveys were distributed to 5,200 occupational health nurses in the United States by e-mail and fax. Twenty-two percent (n = 1,141) responded to the survey. Eighty-two percent (n = 933) stated that they had responsibility for some aspect of safety in their present or most recent position. The respondents reported an average of 28.7 percent of their time involved safety activities. Of those having some responsibility for safety, 80 percent would consider taking a subspecialty certification exam if it were offered by ABOHN (ABOHN, June 14, 2002).

These results prompted ABOHN to move to the next step, to validate the aspects of the safety role that certified occupational health nurses actually were performing. To obtain this information, questions about the safety role were added to an ABOHN Practice Analysis Study. This study was used to verify the scope of occupational health nursing practice. The final result of the study was construction of a blueprint that forms the basis of each certification exam. Applied Measurement Professionals, Inc. conducted ABOHN's 2004 Practice Analysis Study.

The ABOHN Practice Analysis Advisory Committee developed the practice analysis survey instrument and included typical OHN tasks, in addition to those tasks identified by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, Inc. as encompassing the safety role. A total of 5,208 surveys were sent by e-mail or paper mail to current COHN or COHN-S credential holders, as well as non-certified OHNs who were eligible for examination. For purposes of analysis, non-certified OHNs were divided into groups by their highest level of education because this would determine which certification the OHN would be eligible for if s/he were to seek certification. Non-certified respondents with a diploma or associate degree were defined as "COHN-Types." Those with a baccalaureate, master's, or doctorate were defined as "COHN-S-Types." A total of 26 percent (n = 1,389) of the surveys were returned, of which 1,223 (23.5 percent) were useable.

Respondents were asked a variety of demographic questions in order to determine whether sufficient numbers of respondents, in the correct categories, existed to support further analysis. When asked how much time the OHNs spent performing safety activities, 25.3 percent of the COHN types reported they spent more than 30 percent of their time in safety activities.

Another 31.8 percent spent between 11 and 30 percent of their time performing safety activities. Only 17 percent of the COHN-S types reported that they spent more than 30 percent of their time in safety activities. Another 25.5 percent spent between 11 and 30 percent of their time in safety activities. Of all OHNs performing safety activities, only six reported being additionally certified as a Certified Safety Professional. Obviously, many OHNs are involved in safety but have either not pursued or not achieved this traditional safety certification.

Telephone interviews performed as a part of this study elicited information about components of the OHN's safety role. These interviews added to the data collected during a role delineation study by ABOHN completed between 1992 and 1994, where 45.5 percent of the OHNs surveyed reported that they had safety responsibility (Burgel et al., 1997). In 2004, the participants overwhelmingly noted that the OHN role is expanding into a variety of areas, which included safety. This expanded role involved identifying hazards, prevention of injuries based on knowledge of injury trends, team participation in accident investigation, ergonomic evaluations, walkthroughs, and data analysis.

Developing the Safety Management Exam Blueprint
Beyond the demographic data, the Practice Analysis survey included 172 task statements, 24 of which were the same task statements used by BCSP in their last practice analysis survey of safety professionals. Respondents were asked to rate all 172 tasks as to frequency (how often performed in their own practice) and significance (how significant to OHN practice regardless of whether performed in their own practice). Twenty-two of the twenty-four safety tasks were found to meet the decision rules determined by the advisory committee. The two tasks that the respondents rated as slightly below the statistical cut-off involved collaboration with community and outside organizations, and obtaining compliance certification (AMP, 2004, pp. 28 and 30). Of the group of respondents who reported spending more than 25 percent of their time in safety-related activities (n = 272), all 24 tasks were rated as having greater than average significance. These results were substantially similar to those of BCSP.

Therefore, based on this data, the ABOHN Safety Management examination blueprint was devised. The exam was developed in collaboration with BCSP and was based on a form of the Safety Fundamentals exam that was modified to reflect the OHN role in safety that the practice analysis study revealed. The ABOHN Safety Management (SM) examination is now available as a subspecialty exam to all OHNs who currently hold the designation as Certified Occupational Health Nurse (COHN) or Certified Occupational Health Nurse Specialist (COHN-S).

The computer-based examination with 200 multiple-choice items is delivered at Thomson Prometric testing centers throughout the United States and around the world. The exam items are categorized into one of four domains. Those domains and the percentage of examination questions in each domain are shown here, with the percentage of questions on the examination that is given to each:

Domain 1: Safety, health, and environmental management, 37 percent
Domain 2: Safety, health, and environmental engineering, 25 percent
Domain 3: Safety, health, and environmental information management and communications, 33 percent
Domain 4: Professional conduct and ethics, 5 percent
SOURCE: ABOHN, 2005, p. 5

ABOHN defines the OHN Safety Manager as an individual who "plans, organizes, implements and evaluates hazard control activities that meet organizational safety objectives to reduce or eliminate risks to people, property and the environment" (ABOHN, 2005, p. 2). The eligibility requirements for the ABOHN Safety Management examination are:

* a COHN or COHN-S core credential;
* current position with at least 25 percent safety management activities;
* 50 contact hours of safety-related continuing education earned during the preceding five years (safety-related is defined as being contained in the Knowledge and Skills areas of the safety management examination blueprint); and
* 1,000 hours of safety management work experience earned during the preceding five years.

Value of the SM Credential
This new ABOHN SM credential recognizes certified occupational health nurses who have expanded their practice to include safety management. It provides a valid credential for those who already are performing safety functions within their OHN role. This may be particularly important to those who hold COHN or COHN-S credentials and have a diploma or associates degree in nursing as their highest level of education.

The ABOHN SM also may be a terminal credential, which means it is permanent for those credential holders who continue to meet the recertification requirements. Additionally, the SM credential may provide a career path for OHNs who plan to obtain the Certified Safety Professional credential. OHNs who earn the ABOHN Safety Management subspecialty credential will be granted a waiver for BCSP's Safety Fundamentals examination. Therefore, SM credential holders who seek the CSP credential and are otherwise qualified would have their examination requirements limited to BCSP's second exam, the Comprehensive Practice exam.

Once obtained, the ABOHN Safety Management credential may be maintained by recertification every five years. The requirements are:

* 50 contact hours of safety-related continuing education within the preceding five years;
* 1,000 practice hours related to safety management within the preceding five years.

Occupational health nurses are often the only health and safety professional available in an organization. This fact and economic pressures to reduce staff in industry have offered opportunities for OHNs to expand their role to include safety management. With the addition of ABOHN's subspecialty Safety Management examination, certified OHNs now have the opportunity to demonstrate their safety management expertise and gain appropriate recognition for their unique skill set.

1. ABOHN. (June 14, 2002). [Preliminary results of informal needs assessment survey]. Internal ABOHN memo.
2. ABOHN. (2005). Occupational Health Nursing Safety Management Examination Handbook [Online]. Available at: www.abohn.org/docs/Safety_Management_Handbook_wtoc.doc.
3. AMP. (2004, May). A practice analysis of the certified occupational health nurse and certified occupational health nurse-specialist. Kansas City, KS: Author.
4. Burgel, B.J., Wallace, E.M., Kemerer, S.D., & Garbin, M. (1997). Certified occupational health nursing: job analysis in the united states. AAOHN Journal, 45(11), 586.

This article appeared in the January 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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