Explanation of Occupational Health and Safety
“Healthy workers and Safe workplaces make businesses grow!” That is important for every employer and employee to know about Occupational health and safety (OHS). The field of OHS has become a topic of growing interest over the past few decades. Occupational health and safety (OHS) is the area of public health that emphasizes various injuries and illnesses occurring in the workplace. It strongly focuses on the primary prevention of various hazards. Different strategies and regulations are developed and implemented by the experts in this field, that aim at limiting hazards that could cause physical or mental harm to people working at a workplace.
Importance of Occupational Health and Safety
The proportion of various occupational diseases and accidents is growing in several developing countries. It is estimated that above 120 million accidents and over 200, 000 fatalities occur every year at the workplace in developing countries. (Lund et al 2011)(1)
World Health Organization(WHO) has stated that poor occupational health and safety strategies could cause a reduced capacity of workers, and this in turn can make a loss of up to 10% to 20% of the gross national product (GNP) of any nation. Worldwide, Occupational illnesses and death account for a loss of around 4% of the country’s gross domestic product. (Amponash et. al. 2003)(2)
Today, there is a broad scope of occupational health and safety, and it includes various disciplines from hazardous materials and the spread of diseases to violence and ergonomics prevention. Some measures of occupational health and safety (OHS) also include work environments ranging from construction sites to office buildings.
Now, all employers (private and public) have a legal responsibility to establish and maintain a healthy and safe environment that could benefit the employees and employers too; and ultimately can benefit the growth and profitability of any business. Employers are responsible to conduct risk assessments and organize business operations with utmost safety as the priority. Occupational health and safety performance is key to reputation management, especially where businesses are dependent on relationships with global consumers.
Purpose of the Article
As you read further in this article, you can explore more about occupational health and safety. You can know about the various types of occupational hazards, understand the basics of OSHA, what are the responsibilities of employers and also the employees’ responsibility to prevent occupational hazards, various ways to prevent and respond to occupational emergencies, and many more.
2. Understanding Occupational Hazards
Occupational hazards are the hazards that are experienced in the workplace. There could be many types of occupational hazards, such as physical hazards, chemical hazards, biological hazards or biohazards, psychosocial hazards, and ergonomic hazards. These occupational hazards are the risks of accidents/injuries or illnesses in the workplace. It could be something unpleasant and dangerous that a person suffers or experiences while doing their job in their workplace.
One can experience several consequences of workplace hazards, and some of those could include trauma or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, reduced self-esteem, suicide attempts, loss of dignity, losing autonomy, injuries, premature aging, and many forms of physical and musculoskeletal injuries. ( Magnavita N. et. al. 2020)(3) Wijnen BFM et.al 2020)(4)
As the term signifies, Occupational hazard includes both short-term and long-term risks linked with the workplace environment and it has become a growing study of interest within the field of occupational safety and health under public health.
Physical hazards are those hazards or dangers in the workplace environment that can affect or harm someone’s body, sometimes even without touching them, some of these hazards could be prolonged exposure to sunlight, radiation, loud noise, extremely low or high temperature, and so on.
In the United States, occupational hearing loss is the most common type of work-related injury, with 22 million workers exposed to dangerous levels of noise at work. It is also estimated that $242 million are annually spent on the compensation of workers for their hearing loss disability. ( Sanwoo Tak, et. al 2009)(5)
One more common cause of occupational injuries and fatalities coming under physical hazards is injuries due to falls, especially in healthcare, construction, transportation, and building cleaning and maintenance sectors.
Another type of occupational hazard is the chemical hazard. There are several kinds of hazardous chemicals and toxins that workers are exposed to in different workplaces, such as cleaning products, pesticides, acids, environmental smoke, flammable liquids, and carbon monoxide. There are various risks involved with such types of chemical hazards in occupational setups.
Appropriate labeling, handling, and using PPE or personal protective equipment, are some of the best ways to control the risks associated with chemicals that are being used in various laboratories or clinics. The hazard-preventing practices should be a top priority for the long-term and short-term health and safety of all clinical laboratory staff. ( Lee SJ, et. al 2014 Nov)(6)
Biological hazards or biohazards are the dangers or hazards caused due to various biological substances that threaten the health and life of human beings and other living organisms.
Some biological hazards are samples of a toxin from a biological source, a virus, or a microbe. These samples specifically harm the health of human beings.
Anesthesiologists are greatly exposed to the risk of transmission of various viral, or microbial infection transmission during their contact with patients and their secretions. Moreover, glove contamination during venepuncture procedures occurs in 18% of cases, and this could represent a high risk of exposure to various infectious agents while gloves are not being used.
Recently it has been found that infectious diseases are the most frequent among occupational diseases. Apart from healthcare or clinical setups, workers in many other settings like farms, zoos, or veterinary clinics are exposed to various biological hazards, such as animal droppings, insect bites, viruses, and other microorganisms.
Sometimes workers or employees are exposed to psychosocial hazards in their occupational setup. These are the occupational hazards that affect the psychological health of employees or workers. Such psychosocial hazards affect their ability to take part confidently and actively in a work environment with their colleagues.
Psychosocial hazards are the risks that happen to the mental and emotional well-being of workers, including long work hours, tight deadlines, feelings of job insecurity, and improper work-life balance. ( Brun et. al. 2007)(7)
Such types of occupational hazards are linked with how the work was planned, designed, organized, and managed. Psychosocial hazards are also related to the economical and social contexts of the work. Some workers suffer from psychiatric illnesses or injuries, while some also suffer from physical illnesses or injuries due to psychosocial hazards.
Sometimes awkward postures during work could lead to developing various diseases linked to the spinal cord, which could include herniated discs and lumbar muscle contractions. Many workers in the U.S. work almost on computers, typing for hours at their workplace, and finally, suffer from various types of diseases because of the overuse of certain joints and muscles. Such types of repetitive activities every day can not only cause injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome but also give eye strain.
Thus, proper ergonomic design of the workplace is extremely important to reduce or prevent the risk of accidents and various ergonomic hazards and occupational diseases.
3. Occupational Health and Safety Regulations
Overview of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration and OSH Act)
In most countries worldwide, an act exists that govern the way all businesses operate. In the United States, the act refers to the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It was established in 1970, and the act states that employers should adopt some practices, methods, means, or processes that are effective in protecting their workers while they are on the job.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has numerous laws and regulations that apply to various industries throughout the U.S. According to OSHA, it is mandatory for employers to provide their employees with a work environment that is free from certain types of known hazards like exposure to heat or cold stress, excessive levels of noise, mechanical dangers, or exposure to toxic chemicals, poor sanitary conditions, and so one.
OSHA has been created by Congress with the mission of ensuring healthy and safe work environments. The law established by OSHA entitles workers to a safe workplace and it protects various rights of the workers or employees. Some of the rights are listed below.
- Workers or employees have the right to receive workplace safety and health training in any language that they understand.
- They have the right to get required safety equipment like gloves, face shields, a harness and lifeline for falls, and other types of PPEs.
- They should work on machines that are safe to use and in good condition.
- The workers should be protected from various toxic chemicals
- They have the right to request an OSHA inspection and also speak to the inspector.
- They can report an illness or injury that occurred at/due to their work.
- The law also gives workers and employees the complete right to file a complaint about their working conditions or workplace if they feel them to be unsafe.
- Moreover, legal recourse is available against unsafe or ignorant employers. So, if you get injured or meet with accidents on the job, you would get workers’ compensation.
Employee and Employer Responsibilities
Effective controlling measures can protect workers or employees from occupational hazards and help them prevent injuries, accidents, and illnesses. Creating a safe and healthful workplace is the duty or responsibility of an employer. Below are some responsibilities of employers that, when followed, could bring out a safe and healthful workplace.
- Use a workplace hazard control plan that would help to guide the selection and implementation of controls, and implement various controlling steps as per the plan.
- They should identify and evaluate different options to control hazards by using a “hierarchy of controls”
- Employers should involve workers, who can understand and actively participate in various strategies to create awareness about various hazards at the workplace.
- They should be responsible to develop plans with measures for protecting workers during occupational emergencies.
- Employers should check out if all machinery and equipment are in good condition and safe to use.
- Regular inspections should be made to prevent structures, grounds, tools, machinery, and pieces of equipment in the workplace from becoming unsafe.
- Employers should correct all unsafe conditions without delay.
- They should set up an accident prevention program and should instruct all workers about the safe performance of duties.
Employees are also responsible for their safety at the workplace. Below are some of the personal responsibilities that every employee or worker should keep in mind.
- Do not remove any safety equipment from machines or equipment, like mixers, grinders, and so on.
- Being an employee, you should ensure that no machine or tool is used in a way that could cause injury or any accident.
- You should have adequate instruction about a piece of equipment or machinery before you start using it.
- Employees must ensure that there are safe exits and entrances in their workplace.
- You should wear protective eyewear or other PPE while working.
- You can refuse to work in any work environment or condition that is unsafe.
Importance of Compliance
Maintaining proper health and safety standards of compliance is the right thing to be done. Compliance risk management is highly essential for any employer and employee. Being a responsible employer, taking care of your employees will make them believe in you and they will in turn take care of your business and look for its growth and development.
Some other importance of compliance are:
- Employees have improved morale and interest in their job.
- Increased productivity and job satisfaction are seen.
- Fewer injuries happen, thus less compensation.
- Reduced insurance or healthcare costs, fines, and litigation.
- Increased corporate image and work culture.
4. Preventing Occupational Injuries and Illnesses
Workplace Safety Inspections
Inspections are systematic and thorough examinations that are done to check the physical condition of the workplace and are proceeded with a formal process of documenting any unsafe practices or occupational hazards.
Conducting safety inspections or audits would help to examine the workplace and identify any requirements for corrective action. For any company, it is essential to have consistent safety checks that would be significant in preventing occupational injuries and illnesses.
Each workplace safety inspection should consider all the elements of your workplace into account, like all equipment or machinery used, people, processes, and work environment. The inspections should not only be conducted in the workplace or the office building but also in the parking lots and other places where employees have a chance to meet with hazards.
It is essential to analyze the result once a safety check or inspection of the workplace has been conducted. The reports of inspection or audit would show whether there is a need for better safe work practices or more occupational health and safety training for employees.
Providing Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment or PPE is something that can help workers or employees to protect themselves while they are working at their workplace.
Environmental management measures and other such means can help in removing or reducing harmful factors or occupational hazards and improve the quality of workplaces. However, in several work sites, these environmental or other measures cannot be applied. In such situations, workers can be protected by a work management approach that utilizes personal protective equipment. PPE could be a significant means of protecting employees or workers at the workplace. (Shin-ichi SAWAD et. Al. 2017 Nov)(8)
Personal protective equipment( PPE) is equipment that would protect the users against any risk of accidents or prevent them from adverse effects on their health. Safety helmets, safety footwear, eye protection, high-visibility clothing, safety harnesses, and respiratory protective equipment( RPE) are some examples of PPE.
PPE is available to protect various parts like eyes, ears, hands and arms, head and neck, feet and legs, lungs, and the whole body. Apart from these PPE emergency equipment like compressed-air escape breathing apparatus, respirators, and safety ropes are also available that can be used in case of emergencies.
NOTE For Employers On PPE:
- Use PPE only as a last resort.
- If PPE is required after implementing other means of control at the workplace or sites, these PPE should be provided to their workers free of charge.
- Employers should provide appropriate training about the use of PPE before they allow them to use.
- Employers should seek advice from a specialist in case of any doubt regarding the use or safety of PPE.
Ergonomics is a branch of science that focuses on the interaction of people and various elements in a workplace or a system. It also refers to the job that aims at optimizing human well-being and also better system performance in the workplace, using different theories, principles, data, and methods in designs.
For implementing ergonomics in any workplace, the first step that should be focused on is to create a team of ergonomic experts who will be reviewing your company’s current ergonomic status and coming up with betterments where required.
Once the team of ergonomics experts has been built, the next step should be to create a list of prioritized departments or jobs that should be looked after first. Experts would take a look at the data collected via employee surveys, prepare a review of musculoskeletal disorders( MSD) history among employees of your company and also look at other ergonomic issues, and then make a decision on various means of improving the conditions. Various scientific methods and tools like WISHA Lifting Calculator, Sook Tables, and NIOSH Lifting Equation should be used to evaluate the risks. The ergonomic improvement team should conduct a proper analysis and come up with improved ways to ensure that workers are safe and healthy.
5. Training Employees on Safety Procedures
Apart from taking all measures to reduce occupational hazards and maintain fair occupational safety and health, it is also essential to provide the employees with the necessary training on safety procedures. Every worker or employee should know various ways to work safely in their workplace without causing risks to their health.
Employees should be given proper instructions, information, and appropriate training regarding all safety means and PPE that could be in use at the work to prevent accidents or illnesses. The training regarding safety procedures that employees should receive, must include the following things.
- They should know about the risks that their work might possess.
- The employees should know about various safety measures to deal with the associated risks or hazards.
- They should be trained about ways to follow any emergency procedure.
- Recruits should have basic training on how to work safely, which should include arrangements for first aid, fire, and evacuation in case of emergencies.
- Some employees’ skills might require updating by refresher training.
6. Responding to Occupational Emergencies
Emergencies are called so because these hazards can occur at any time all of a sudden. Preparing before an emergency or accident plays a crucial role in ensuring that the employers and employees are equipped with the necessary equipment, know how to keep themselves and others safe, where to go, and so on. For this, an emergency plan is required.
An emergency action plan is a place that includes designated actions that employers as well as employees should take to ensure safety from fire and many other emergencies. The plan should include the following.
- A preferred method to report or alarm fire and other emergencies.
- An emergency evacuation policy and procedure.
- Emergency escape route assignments like floor plans, workplace maps, and various refuge or safe areas.
- The emergency plan should also include the names, titles, and departments, along with telephone numbers of persons both within as well as outside the company to who employees can contact for proper information that is cited in the emergency plan.
- It should also include various safe procedures for employees who would remain to perform or shut down critical operations, operate fire extinguishers, or perform other immediate services.
- There should also be certain medical and rescue duties for any employee who is designated to perform them.
Burns in workplaces is one of the major social and economic threats to employees and their families, along with the community. Despite various safety measures and guidelines, people at different workplaces meet with burns; and burns in the workplace account for a considerable proportion of all burns. ( Munnoch D.A. et. al. 2000)(9)
Statistics that have been presented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that work-related fires and explosions account for more than 5, 000 burn injuries every year in the United States. ( Joseph M. et. al 2011 June 30).(10)
The prime element for a safe workplace is every employee should ensure fire safety and employers should take all the necessary actions to prevent fire hazards and also take essential steps in case of a fire emergency. In every industry or office, a “fire plan” should be set up before starting any demolition job. The fire plan should include all the necessary steps to eradicate any hazardous elements that can cause explosions or fire incidents.
Every workplace has its specific fire risk, and thus everyone should know and follow some steps to maintain fire safety in their workplace. Some of these steps( tips) are listed below.
- Remove the trash
- Maintain proper electrical safety
- Safely store chemicals.
- Keep all electrical control panels quite accessible.
- Prevent ignition in explosive areas.
- Keep fire safety equipment handy, clear, and in good condition.
- Fit relevant equipment.
- Hold fire safety training at your workplace.
First Aid and Medical Assistance
Employers should assess their first-aid requirements to help them decide about the necessary facilities and equipment that they need to add, and how many first-aid personnel they must provide in case of any injury or incident at their workplace.
There should be an availability of a well-stocked first-aid box. Apart from this, an appointed person should be there to take charge of all sorts of first-aid arrangements. Moreover, there should also be a need to put up notices telling their employees where the first-aids and appointed persons can be found.
In the case of chemical industries, large construction sites, and other huge factories, first-aid rooms should also be available. The most important thing that any employer should follow is to have appropriate knowledge about ways to provide first aid to themselves in the worst cases while at work.
NOTE: In case of severity, injured or affected workers or employees should be immediately taken to the hospital to seek emergency medical assistance.
Recap of Key Points
- Occupational Health and Safety( OHS) deals with all aspects of workers’ health and safety in their workplaces and it strongly focuses on the prevention of various occupational hazards.
- The main aim is to prevent accidents, injuries, and illnesses that could harm people from their work-related activities.
- In the U.S. the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has stated various laws, acts, and regulations for workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Act established in 1970 states that every employer must adopt certain methods and safety practices for protecting their workers from getting injured or suffering illnesses on their job.
- There are various occupational hazards like physical, biological, chemical, psychosocial, and ergonomic hazards.
- Every employer and employee has specific responsibilities to protect themselves from various occupational hazards.
- Various means of safety practices, inspections, and training should be available at workplaces.
- Incidents/accidents can occur anytime and emergencies could be required anytime at workstations. So, emergency planning, first aid, and medical assistance should be available in case of emergencies.
Final Thoughts And Call to Action for Improved Occupational Health and Safety
Every business needs to have improved occupational health and safety measures that should be properly planned, implemented, and maintained for preventing any sort of occupational hazard and also for the health and safety of employees or workers. Employees perform better at their work when they are healthy and safe from injury or diseases, and this, in turn, benefits the growth of the business. So, if you are an employer, reach out to experts and prepare the best occupational health and safety plans to protect your team.
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