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Occupational Health and Safety

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Occupational health and safety is a cross-disciplinary area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. The goal of all occupational health and safety programs is to foster a safe work environment.[1] As a secondary effect, it may also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers, suppliers, nearby communities, and other members of the public who are impacted by the workplace environment. It may involve interactions among many subject areas, including occupational medicine, occupational (or industrial) hygiene, public health, safety engineering, chemistry, health physics, ergonomics, toxicology, epidemiology, environmental health, industrial relations, public policy, industrial sociology, medical sociology, social law, labour law and occupational health psychology.

Contents

Definition

Since 1950, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have shared a common definition of occupational health. It was adopted by the Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health at its first session in 1950 and revised at its twelfth session in 1995. The definition reads: "Occupational health should aim at: the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations; the prevention amongst workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; the placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his physiological and psychological capabilities; and, to summarize, the adaptation of work to man and of each man to his job."

Relationship to occupational health psychology

Occupational health psychology (OHP), a related discipline, is a relatively new field that combines elements of occupational health and safety, industrial/organizational psychology, and health psychology.[2] The field is concerned with identifying work-related psychosocial factors that adversely affect the health of people who work. OHP is also concerned with developing ways to effect change in workplaces for the purpose of improving the health of people who work. For more detail on OHP, see the section on occupational health psychology.

Reasons for Occupational health and safety

The reasons for establishing good occupational health and safety standards are frequently identified as:

  • Moral - An employee should not have to risk injury or death at work, nor should others associated with the work environment.
  • Economic - many governments realize that poor occupational health and safety performance results in cost to the State (e.g. through social security payments to the incapacitated, costs for medical treatment, and the loss of the "employability" of the worker). Employing organizations also sustain costs in the event of an incident at work (such as legal fees, fines, compensatory damages, investigation time, lost production, lost goodwill from the workforce, from customers and from the wider community).
  • Legal - Occupational requirements may be reinforced in civil law and/or criminal law; it is accepted that without the extra "encouragement" of potential regulatory action or litigation, many organisations would not act upon their implied moral obligations.

National implementing legislation

Different states take different approaches to legislation, regulation, and enforcement.

In the European Union, member states have enforcing authorities to ensure that the basic legal requirements relating to occupational health and safety are met. In many EU countries, there is strong cooperation between employer and worker organisations (e.g. Unions) to ensure good OSH performance as it is recognized this has benefits for both the worker (through maintenance of health) and the enterprise (through improved productivity and quality). In 1996 the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work was founded.

Member states of the European Union have all transposed into their national legislation a series of directives that establish minimum standards on occupational health and safety. These directives (of which there are about 20 on a variety of topics) follow a similar structure requiring the employer to assess the workplace risks and put in place preventive measures based on a hierarchy of control. This hierarchy starts with elimination of the hazard and ends with personal protective equipment.

In the UK, health and safety legislation is drawn up and enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities (the local council) under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Increasingly in the UK the regulatory trend is away from prescriptive rules, and towards risk assessment. Recent major changes to the laws governing asbestos and fire safety management embrace the concept of risk assessment.

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 created both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).[3] OSHA, in the U.S. Department of Labor, is responsible for developing and enforcing workplace safety and health regulations. NIOSH, in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is focused on research, information, education, and training in occupational safety and health.[4]

OSHA have been regulating occupational safety and health since 1971. Occupational safety and health regulation of a limited number of specifically defined industries was in place for several decades before that, and broad regulations by some individual states was in place for many years prior to the establishment of OSHA.

In Canada, workers are covered by provincial or federal labour codes depending on the sector in which they work. Workers covered by federal legislation (including those in mining, transportation, and federal employment) are covered by the Canada Labour Code; all other workers are covered by the health and safety legislation of the province they work in. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), an agency of the Government of Canada, was created in 1978 by an Act of Parliament. The act was based on the belief that all Canadians had "...a fundamental right to a healthy and safe working environment." CCOHS is mandated to promote safe and healthy workplaces to help prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.

In Malaysia, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) under the Ministry of Human Resource is responsible to ensure that the safety, health and welfare of workers in both the public and private sector is upheld. DOSH is responsible to enforce the Factory and Machinery Act 1969 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994.

In the People's Republic of China, the Department of Health is responsible for occupational disease prevention. On the provincial and municiple level, there are Occupational Disease Prevention hospital[5]. The "Occupational Disease Prevention Law of PRC" came into force on May 1, 2002. [6] The prevention of occupational disease is still in its initial stage compared with industried countries, such as US or UK.

Identifing Safety and Health Hazards

Hazards, risks, outcomes

The terminology used in OSH varies between states, but generally speaking:

  • A hazard is something that can cause harm if not controlled.
  • The outcome is the harm that results from an uncontrolled hazard.
  • A risk is a combination of the probability that a particular outcome will occur and the severity of the harm involved.

“Hazard”, “risk”, and “outcome” are used in other fields to describe e.g. environmental damage, or damage to equipment. However, in the context of OSH, “harm” generally describes the direct or indirect degradation, temporary or permanent, of the physical, mental, or social well-being of workers. For example, repetitively carrying out manual handling of heavy objects is a hazard. The outcome could be a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) or an acute back or joint injury. The risk can be expressed numerically (e.g. a 0.5 or 50/50 chance of the outcome occurring during a year), in relative terms (e.g. "high/medium/low"), or with a multi-dimensional classification scheme (e.g. situation-specific risks).

Hazard Assessment

Hazard analysis or hazard assessment is a process in which individual hazards of the workplace are identified, assessed and controlled/eliminated as close to source (location of the hazard) as reasonable and possible. As technology, resources, social expectation or regulatory requirements change, hazard analysis focuses controls more closely toward the source of the hazard. Thus hazard control is a dynamic program of prevention. Hazard-based programs also have the advantage of not assigning or impling there are "acceptable risks" in the workplace. A hazard-based program may not be able to eliminate all risks, but neither does it accept "satisfactory" -- but still risky—outcomes. And as those who calculate and manage the risk are usually managers while those exposed to the risks are a different group, workers, a hazard-based approach can by-pass conflict inherent in a risk-based approach.

Risk assessment

Modern occupational safety and health legislation usually demands that a risk assessment be carried out prior to making an intervention. It should be kept in mind that risk management requires risk to be managed to a level which is as low as is reasonably practical.

This assessment should:

  • Identify the hazards
  • Identify all affected by the hazard and how
  • Evaluate the risk
  • Identify and prioritize appropriate control measures

The calculation of risk is based on the likelihood or probability of the harm being realized and the severity of the consequences. This can be expressed mathematically as a quantitative assessment (by assigning low, medium and high likelihood and severity with integers and multiplying them to obtain a risk factor, or qualitatively as a description of the circumstances by which the harm could arise.

The assessment should be recorded and reviewed periodically and whenever there is a significant change to work practices. The assessment should include practical recommendations to control the risk. Once recommended controls are implemented, the risk should be re-calculated to determine of it has been lowered to an acceptable level. Generally speaking, newly introduced controls should lower risk by one level, i.e, from high to medium or from medium to low.

Common workplace hazard groups

  • Mechanical hazards include:
By type of agent:
By type of damage:
Harry McShane, age 16, 1908. Pulled into machinery in a factory in Cincinnati. His arm was ripped off at the shoulder and his leg broken. No compensation paid. Photograph by Lewis Hine.

Fire prevention (fire protection/fire safety) often comes within the remit of health and safety professionals as well.

In Canada, Hazards are typically categorized into one of six groups:

1. Safety (moving machinery, working at heights, slippery surfaces, mobile equipment, etc.) 2. Ergonomic (material handling, environment, work organization, etc.) 3. Chemical Agents 4. Biological Agents 5. Physical Agents(noise, lighting, radiation, etc.) 6. Psychosocial(stress, violence, etc.)

Future developments

Occupational health and safety has come a long way from its beginnings in the heavy industry sector. It now has an impact on every worker, in every work place, and those charged with managing health and safety are having more and more tasks added to their portfolio. The most significant responsibility is environmental protection. The skills required to manage occupational health and safety are compatible with environmental protection, which is why these responsibilities are so often bolted onto the workplace health and safety professional.

See also

General

Government organizations

Laws

Lawsuits

Related fields

Workplace environmental standards

Other

References

  1. ^ Oak Ridge National Lab Safety Document http://www.ornl.gov
  2. ^ Everly, G. S., Jr. (1986). An introduction to occupational health psychology. In P. A. Keller & L. G. Ritt (Eds.), Innovations in clinical practice: A source book, Vol. 5 (pp. 331-338). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Exchange.
  3. ^ Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  4. ^ About NIOSH. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
  5. ^ Guangdong Occupational Disease Prevention Center http://www.gdoh.org/chn200905080701390/
  6. ^ "Occupational Disease Prevention Law of the People's Republic" http://www.gov.cn/banshi/2005-08/01/content_19003.htm

External links

Further reading


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