Careers: Why I love being a work health and safety nurse


A back injury while working as a nurse alerted Francesca Nicholas to the prospect of specialising in occupational health and safety.

Francesca writes: I graduated from St Vincent’s Hospital in inner Sydney in 1984 after completing my Registered Nurse training.

Over the years after that, I worked in some very interesting areas, including medical/surgical, management of medical practices, country hospitals and operating theatres. But while working in theatres, I injured my back transferring a patient from operating table to trolley with someone who was not lifting correctly (always the way!)

Having had this back injury, I decided I would not lift another person in my career, so departed from the hospital system. I decided to re-study, starting with an Occupational Health Nursing Orientation Course. Post doing this, I took a large step out into the world of Occupational Health & Safety.

I realised then that for the rest of my working life I would have a passion for OH & S (as it was known). This took me to working in factories, which proved to be a very large passion. I absolutely love the process of raw materials being manufactured into the goods we use every day. I enjoy finding new solutions to work processes so as not to be a risk. The importance of sending people home from work at the end of the day the same way they arrived – healthy – is never to be overlooked and so satisfying. No one should sustain injury or illness due to their working environs.

I’ve been in Occupational Health for over 20 years, having worked for manufacturing on the shop floor, in the corporate environment and in aviation. My speciality is ergonomics, which is so important. It’s amazing how humans choose to work at a desk and what they put up with to get the job done. Over time they may start having symptoms from poor posture and poor work set-up. This is not all that difficult to change and I’ve had great success diminishing the symptoms an individual may suffer.

riskI love the variety of Work Health and Safety. Performing risk and hazard assessments, manual handling assessments, ergonomics assessments and giving recommendations to management, collecting injury data, running Work Health & Safety meetings, treating the injured employee, assessment of factors which led to the injury and going through the rehabilitation process with them and all associated, coordinating travel health and vaccination programs, makes for a very interesting and diverse role.

In working with return to work coordination, I’m in contact with the employee as soon as I’m aware they’ve had an injury and work closely with them all the way through their rehabilitation process. It is immensely satisfying to witness their recovery.

I applied for a WHS role which was advertised online via an agency [Alliance Health]. I am now on the agency’s books.  I would have to say their service is exemplary. They are very professional, friendly and keep up contact whilst going through the employment process.

Since that original Occupational Health Nursing Orientation course, I have continued studying and am planning yet more study.

How has your career as a nurse or midwife panned out? Has it taken a path you wouldn’t have expected? Send us an account of your working life – contact us here.

Previously on Nurse Uncut:


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