History of the OHNAI

The first nurse on record to be officially employed by industry in Ireland was appointed to Guinness in 1904. Some records mention the employment of a nurse in a company called Goodbodies, Co Offaly in the 1800’s. Nurse Gwendoline Barrington was appointed to Jacobs Biscuit factory in 1911. The ‘industry nurse’ as she was called then, cared for the general health of the workers as well as for those injured at work; it was very much a curative role. In 1952 the Occupational Health Nurses Association of Ireland (OHNAI) was founded by a group of nurses working in industry, mainly in the Dublin area.

At that time there was no specific training for industrial nursing. Meetings took place with the Minister for Health leading to Nurse Mary O’Callaghan being awarded a World Health Fellowship to study and observe the role and duties of nurses in industries in England and Holland from the 5th – 28th April 1961. In October 1961 the OHNAI, in collaboration with the Department of Health and An Bord Altranais, organised the first course, which was delivered over a two-week period by Mary (course leader). The lectures were delivered by An Bord Altranais, Nurses and Doctors working in industry, hospital doctors, an engineer from the ESB, a medical inspector from the Department of Health, a personnel manage and two priests – one lecturing on Industrial Psychology and Human Relations, and the other on Employees at Work.There were three afternoon site visits arranged as part of the course. Mary compiled and transcribed the lectures into book format following the course. Following representations from the OHNAI in 1984, An Bord Altranais set up a certificate course for Occupational Health (OH) Nursing. Participants on this course received a certificate in OH Nursing from An Bord Altranais. This course continued up until 1989, after which An Bord Altranais joined with University College Dublin (UCD) to run the Diploma in Safety, Health and Welfare at Work. Nurses who had undertaken the course sat a separate exam for which they were awarded a Diploma in OH Nursing. This course lasted for one year after which An Bord Altranais discontinued their involvement and UCD continued the course themselves.UCD now run a Higher Diploma in Safety, Health and Welfare at work. Presently there are several courses being run at University level, the Multidisciplinary Diploma in Safety, Health and Welfare at Work run by UCD, UCC, WIT & UL, a Higher Diploma in Applied Science – Occupational Health and Hygiene run by The National University of Ireland, Galway. In addition there is also a Grad.Dip/MBS in Safety and Health at Work in DCU. All of these courses are recognised by An Bord Altranais as a relevant course for OH nursing in Ireland. There has been discussions between the OHNAI and the Faculty of Nursing in UCD to set up a postgraduate diploma in OH Nursing in the past, but unfortunately this appears to be on the hold at this present time. The OHNAI have also pursued the role of Advanced Nurse Practitioners (ANP) for OH nursing, for which the first position in Ireland has recently been appointed.Today there are well over 200 Occupational Health Nurses throughout the country, working in a variety of settings, industrial and healthcare: both private and public sector. This number also includes those who have retired (honorary members).

Acknowledgement: A special thanks to Bernadette Lavelle and Joan McNamara for this invaluable information