Occupational Health Nurses and Respiratory Protection: Improving Education and Training - Letter Report


Occupational health nurses (OHNs) work in a variety of workplace environments, including agriculture, construction, health care, manufacturing, and public safety, among others. In these environments, OHNs have a wide range of roles and responsibilities that span management and organization, worker health assessment and direct health care services, and prevention and research. In many settings where OHNs work, employees require protective measures to safeguard them from a range of respiratory hazards—for example, respirable dust in construction and chemical sprays in agriculture. As key members of the occupational health and safety workforce, OHNs need adequate education and training in respiratory protection in order to ensure both their own safety and the safety of America’s workers.

At the request of the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the IOM Committee on the Respiratory Protection Curriculum for Occupational Health Nursing Programs examined existing respiratory protection curricula in occupational health nursing programs and made recommendations to improve the education and training of OHNs. The IOM identified essential content that should be included in education and training programs for OHNs and the best approaches to teaching that content.

The IOM finds that current respiratory protection education for OHNs receives varying amounts of dedicated time and resources and is taught using a variety of approaches. The IOM makes several recommendations to occupational health nursing education and training programs and NPPTL, such as expansion of respiratory protection information provided across all levels of nursing education and training; consistent integration of essential content into graduate curricula and continuing education programs for OHNs; continued and expanded use of innovative teaching methods, such as online courses, use of simulation and case studies, and field observation and practice; and exploration of the development of core competencies in respiratory protection.