Understanding Occupational Health And Safety (OHS): What You Need to Know to Keep Yourself and Your Employees Healthy
What is Occupational Health?
Occupational health is concerned with promoting and maintaining the highest level of physical, mental, and social well-being of workers in all occupations.
The occupational health and safety (OHS) is a term that has been used for many years to describe the work-related health and safety. OHS is the set of policies, processes, and practices that are designed to protect workers from occupational hazards.
Occupational health and safety is a way to protect the health of employees. It is a responsibility that every employer has towards their employees. Employers are required by law to provide a safe workplace for their employees.
The International Labour Office, together with the World Health Organization Committee, defined the subject in 1950 as:
“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 equipment; in short, the adaptation of work to man and of each man to his job”
The ILO Occupational Health Services Convention C161 further defines occupational health services as:
“Services entrusted with essentially preventive functions and responsible for advising the employer, the workers and their representatives in the undertaking on:
(i) the requirements for establishing and maintaining a safe and healthy working environment which will facilitate optimal physical and mental health in relation to work;
(ii) the adaptation of work to the capabilities of workers in the light of their state of physical and mental health.”
- The type of occupational health service an employer provides depends on the risk profile of the workplace, specific legal requirements, and available resources.
- An occupational health service includes the services of physicians, nurses, technicians, and hygienists, as well as specialists in specific areas, such as audiometrists.
- Typical services provided by the occupational health include pre-employment screening, health surveillance, return-to-work rehabilitation programmes, sick leave management, counselling, risk assessment (general and personal), health education and promotion campaigns, treatment services, and administration of first aid and immunisation programmes.
- There are minimum standards for the qualification and registration of occupational health physicians and nurses, as well as specialists such as audiometricians.
- General health assessment evaluates a person’s fitness to perform general or specific job-related tasks.
- Health surveillance involves monitoring a person’s health to ensure that he or she is fit for a job that exposes him or her to a specific type of health hazard and to track his or her health over time while working with that hazard.
- Following health surveillance, health records must be maintained. These records contain personal information about the individual and his or her work, and may include a physician’s conclusions after a test or evaluation. These records generally must be kept for as long as the worker in question is under health surveillance; national regulations may specify a specific period
- Occupational health services often collect data on illness and absenteeism to develop occupational health strategies and goals.
Major areas of occupational health & Safety (OHS)
In general, occupational health and safety refers to the prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses. It includes efforts to identify and eliminate hazards in the workplace, to train employees in safe practices, and to provide medical and other support when injuries or illnesses occur.
Some of the major areas of occupational health and safety include:
- Hazard identification and assessment
- Hazard control and prevention
- First aid and CPR
- Work-related injury and illness prevention
- Work-related safety and health management
- Occupational health and safety training
What are the hazards / Risks of occupational health
There are many risks associated with occupational health and safety. Some of these risks include exposure to hazardous materials, repetitive motion injuries, and slips, trips and falls etc.
- Exposure to hazardous materials: Exposure to hazardous materials can occur when working with or around chemicals, fumes, dusts or other harmful substances. This exposure can lead to serious health problems, including respiratory illnesses, skin diseases and cancer.
- Repetitive motion injuries: Repetitive motion injuries can occur when workers perform the same task over and over again. These injuries can cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the affected body part.
- Slips, trips and falls: Slips, trips and falls are another common type of occupational injury. These accidents can occur due to wet floors, cluttered work areas or loose carpeting. Workers who suffer a slip, trip or fall can sustain serious injuries, such as broken bones or concussions.
- Manual handling: Lifting or carrying heavy objects can lead to back injuries if not done properly.
- Musculoskeletal disorders: These can be caused by sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time.
- Eye strain: This can be caused by looking at a computer screen for long periods of time.
- Any many more
The Importance and benefits of Occupational Health & Safety (OHS)
Occupational health and safety (OSH) is a way to protect workers from harm while they are performing their job. The benefits of occupational health and safety are numerous and include reducing millions of injuries each year, protecting workers from serious injury, and improving workplace productivity. There are a number of different benefits to consider when designing and implementing an occupational health and safety program, including:
Occupational health and safety can help to reduce the number of injuries caused by the workplace. By understanding the types of injuries and how to prevent them, employers can create an environment that is conducive to safe work.
Improved Employee Safety
An effective OSH program can also improve employee safety By teaching employees how to safely perform their jobs, companies can reduce the risk of injuries and accidents.
An effective OSH program can also reduce costs. By preventing injuries and accidents, businesses can avoid expensive damage and repairs.
An effective OSH program can also improve productivity. By helping to prevent accidents, workers can stay on the job longer and produce more products.
However, there are some general benefits that may arise from using a service, such as: Compliance with national health and safety and equal opportunities legislation.
- Reduction in absenteeism and the number of days lost due to sickness and associated costs.
- Improved management of rehabilitation and returnto-work processes.
- Early detection of work-related health hazards, enabling better identification, assessment and control.
- Improved management of work-related illnesses, enabling earlier and better treatment and consequently better recovery and minimisation of illness duration.
- Reduction in compensation claims for work-related ill health.
- Better pre-employment screening to match personal characteristics with job requirements.
- Improved morale.
How is occupational health & Safety (OHS) measured
Occupational health & Safety (OHS) is measured in a variety of ways, depending on the specific needs of the occupation and the research available. In general, occupational health metrics can include:
- Absenteeism rates
- Injuries and illnesses
- Death rates
- Complaints and grievances
- Hazardous materials exposures
- And more
Each of these metrics can provide a unique perspective on the health and safety of workers in an occupation.
Types of Occupational Health Service
Occupational health services can be categorised as:
- A full occupational health service staffed by a full-time doctor with a supporting nurses (who may work on a shift basis). A workplace health centre may also offer specialised treatments. This type of service may be found in a large company if the company’s risk profile requires comprehensive care or if the company can afford to offer such care as an employment benefit.
- An occupational health service staffed by one or more occupational health nurses (perhaps on shift duty) with regular visits by a doctor and clinics (perhaps weekly). The doctor combines his duties with other activities (e.g. GP or other occupational health activities). This type of service could be found in a smaller organisation or a large organisation that does not have a risk profile that requires comprehensive care.
- An outsourced occupational health service provided by a private provider of occupational health services. This could include weekly visits by an occupational health professional and/or doctor, or the provision of advice and services on request. This type of service could be used by a small to medium sized employer with a low risk profile.
The nature of the service, the composition of the staff providing the service and their functions must be determined by the employer. Some of the specialised functions of an occupational health service are described below:
- Occupational Health Physician
- Occupational Health Nurse
- Occupational Health Technician
- Occupational Hygienist
Functions of an Occupational Health Service
- Work environment monitoring – based on the information from the orientation exercise, a walk-through of the workplace is conducted together with interviews with staff. Surveillance and spot checks will be carried out if necessary.
- Informing employers, management and workers about work-related health hazards – communication with those responsible for implementing prevention and control measures and those affected.
- Health risk assessment – information obtained during surveillance and from other sources, such as exposure limit values, epidemiological information and exposure data, should be taken into account to identify the potential risks to workers.
- Worker health surveillance – this includes pre-employment and periodic health examinations, return-to-work examinations after absence, and health examinations when leaving the enterprise.
- Prevention and control initiatives – this includes the use of a team to develop effective controls to reduce the risk of illness.
- First aid services and emergency preparedness – although first aid treatment is traditionally the responsibility of an occupational health service, it can also be provided in cooperation with workers.
- Occupational health care, general preventive and curative services – this section covers the provision of diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitation services to workers affected by work-related injuries or diseases.
- Adapting the work to the worker – it may be possible to modify the workplace, equipment and working environment so that the worker can do their job more effectively and with less risk of injury.
- Information, education and training – occupational health services should provide relevant information, education and training to workers.
- Health promotion activities – these can be integrated into the tasks of occupational health services to improve workers’ health.
- Data collection and retention – data on all activities must be properly and securely stored and retained.
Develop and Implement an Alcohol/Drugs Policy
A written policy should be developed in collaboration with the workforce. Consultation with medical personnel is also recommended. This may be part of the company’s health and safety policy or a separate document. The fundamental elements are a statement of goals and objectives, responsibilities (who does what), and a description of the arrangements (the rules). Measures to reduce alcohol/drug-related problems could include:
- Alcohol and drug use are prohibited or restricted on the property (for example, alcohol cannot be brought onto the property). Alternative soft drinks are also made accessible.
- Improved conditions at work (poor conditions can contribute to such problems).
- Proper administration and monitoring (not promoting actions that encourage drug or alcohol abuse).
- Education programmes (information, education, training), which include:
- Outlining the effects of alcohol and other drugs on health.
- Training for managers and supervisors in the detection, counselling, and confidential referral of people with alcohol and drug problems.
- Rules to be obeyed and penalties for breaking them.
- Identification, evaluation, and referral of people with alcohol and drug problems. Individuals may also be subjected to drug and/or alcohol testing, especially in industries that require a high level of safety. This topic needs to be handled gently because it is an emotional one with implications for moral, legal, and ethical behaviour.
- Rules guiding behaviour and punitive actions for breaking them (including dismissal). Employees who engage in drug or alcohol
10 Tips to maintain occupational health & Safety (OHS) at Work Site
The following are 10 tips that can be taken to maintain occupational health & Safety (OHS):
- Have a written safety & Alcohol/Drug
- Recognize the hazards of your work.
- Identify and correct risks.
- Plan and implement safe work practices.
- Make sure your workplace is safe and free from hazards.
- Maintain records of occupational health and safety incidents.
- System for reporting safety risks to the supervisor and a rewards programme for reporters
- Train employees.
- Make sure employees are informed about their health and safety rights.
- Encourage employees to take safety precautions, such as wearing safety gear and using safety equipment etc.
OSHA Standards to Protect Against Occupational Hazards
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) provides guidelines on how employers should maintain a safe work environment. The Act defines safety standards that must be met in order to prevent injuries or illnesses among workers.
There are many OSHA standards in place to protect workers against occupational hazards. Some of these standards are specific to certain industries, while others are more general. Here are a few examples of OSHA standards that help protect workers:
- OSHA Standard 1910.134: This standard requires employers to provide their employees with respiratory protection if they are exposed to airborne hazards.
- OSHA Standard 1926.451: This standard establishes requirements for scaffolding, which is often used in construction and other industries.
- OSHA Standard 1910.1020: This standard requires employers to maintain records of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
- OSHA Standard 1915.1000: This standard covers the use of lasers in the workplace.
These are just a few examples of the many OSHA standards in place to protect workers. For more information, visit the OSHA website.
Occupational Health Resources for Employers
As an employer, it is important to be aware of the many occupational health resources that are available to help you keep your employees safe and healthy. Here are some of the most important occupational health resources for employers:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency responsible for ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for employees. Employers can find a wealth of information on OSHA’s website, including resources on how to prevent and respond to workplace hazards.
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is a research agency that provides employers with information and resources on how to create a safe and healthful workplace.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a federal agency that protects public health and promotes human well-being by providing leadership and direction for disease control and prevention. The CDC website includes resources on a variety of occupational health topics, including workplace safety and health.
- Professional organizations such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) offer resources on occupational health and safety.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to a worker’s safety. Occupational health and safety should be taken seriously and each company should have a plan tailored to their unique needs. If your company does not have an OHS plan in place, this could lead to a catastrophic event for your employees, customers and the company as a whole.
This article has given you just some of the many occupational health and safety topics that you should be considering in order to protect your business and employees. Remember, that with better planning and education, you can come up with a more comprehensive plan for your