Occupational Health Nurses practice in the specialty of Occupational Health and Safety, delivering integrated occupational health and safety services to individual workers and worker populations. Occupational health nursing encompasses the promotion, maintenance and restoration of health and the prevention of illness and injury.

In Canada, Occupational Health Nurses are registered nurses holding a diploma or degree in nursing as well as a variety of additional qualifications and experience. Occupational Health Nurses may also have a certificate, diploma or degree in Occupational Health and Safety from a community college or university. Nurses who are certified in occupational health nursing have met specific eligibility requirements, passed a written exam and have met a national standard of competency in Occupational Health. In Canada, expertise unique to this speciality is recognized with the initials COHN(C), granted by the Canadian Nurses Association. The initials COHN or COHN(S) recognize US certification. These are marks of distinction for occupational health nursing excellence.

Occupational Health Nurses must be licensed to practice in their respective provinces and are guided by the Standards of Occupational Health Nursing Practice in Canada and by various Acts within the provincial licensing association. Occupational Health Nurses are held accountable in practice by their provincial licensing association.

Occupational Health Nursing in Canada 1980-2000

Occupational Health Nurses from across Canada have been meeting informally since 1980. Since that time, three national occupational health nursing groups have existed in Canada: The Canadian Council for Occupational Health Nurses Incorporated (CCOHN); The National Association of Occupational Health Nurses Incorporated (NAOHN); and the Canadian Occupational Health Nurses Association Incorporated / Association Canadienne des Infirmières et Infirmiers en Santé du Travail Incorporated (COHNA/ACIIST). The Canadian Council for Occupational Health Nurses Incorporated (CCOHN) was inspired by the Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association (OOHNA). It was established as a certifying body in 1981 by Canadian Occupational Health Nurses. The aim of the Association was to increase recognition of occupational health nursing as a specialty area through the development of a certification examination for experienced occupational health nurses. CCOHN worked with the CNA Testing Service to develop and refine the examination which was based on a conceptual framework developed by Occupational Health Nurses working with Dr. Marion McGee, Dean, University of Ottawa School of Nursing. The first national occupational health nursing certification examination was established in 1984 and earned international recognition. Other nursing specialties soon began to follow CCOHN’s lead and the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) established a certification program offering the first specialty examination to Neuroscience Nurses in 1991. In 1992, the CCOHN certification process was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Canadian Nurses Association for one dollar. This agreement ensured that CNA would oversee the certification process together with the other nursing specialties.

For many years an informal gathering of provincial occupational health nursing presidents and members of OOHNA had the desire to create a national association of Occupational Health Nurses and in 1986, the National Association of Occupational Health Nurses (NAOHN) was formed. The Association was comprised of an executive committee and a Board of Directors representing the occupational health nursing population of nine provinces. The objectives were to: support the concept of establishing and maintaining standards of occupational health nursing practice; provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and concerns of occupational health nurses nationally; raise the profile of Occupational Health Nurses at both the provincial or territorial and national levels; and speak with a national voice on issues of occupational health and occupational health nursing. The Constitution and By-laws were ratified in 1987.

In 1992, there were approximately 2650 members. NAOHN remained an independent body until 1992, when a name change was proposed to facilitate international identification and incorporation.

At a national meeting in September 1994, NAOHN was dissolved when the Board of Directors formalized by-laws and incorporated the Canadian Occupational Health Nurses Association Inc. (COHNA/ACIIST). National standards for Occupational Health Nurses were approved in 1995. Today, this national organization is made up of all current members of every provincial occupational health nurses association. Each association pays an annual membership fee to COHNA/ACIIST and selects on voting delegate to represent the provincial membership on the Board of Directors. The objectives of the association are to: improve health and safety of workers by speaking with a national voice to influence health and safety regulation and legislation, advance the profession by providing a national forum on the exchange of ideas and concerns; promote national standards for occupational health nurses and enhance the profile of occupational health nurses at provincial / territorial, national, and international levels; contribute to the health of the community by providing quality health services to workers and courage continuing education; and ensure the certification process meets COHNA/ACIIST standards.

COHNA/ACIIST is an affiliate member of the Canadian Nurses Association and a member of Volunteer Canada.