What is Occupational Health & Why is It Important?

What is Occupational Health & Why is It Important?

This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on 07/03/23

What is occupational safety and health?

What is occupational health exactly and why is it important? Occupational Safety and Health, OSH, relates to health, safety, injury prevention, and welfare specifically to employees in their workplace environment. OSH aids in protecting and maintaining the highest degree of workplace safety and the physical, mental, and social well-being of workers in all occupations. The goal of occupational health care is to minimize workplace hazards, exposure, and potential health risks. It is a discipline with a broad scope involving many specialty fields creating a productive and effective work environment for employees.

What is the role of occupational health and safety management?

OSH management involves taking practical steps or measures to ensure employees are free from workplace injury or danger to their health. The overall goal of occupational health professionals is to protect the workers from the risk that impacts their health during their employment. They are the unsung heroes providing a wide range of occupational health services. There is a high level of focus on placing workers in an occupational environment, with regular maintenance to adapt to workers’ physical and mental needs. It involves implementing precautions to protect workers from injuries or dangers to their safety and health. It is important to remember the management of employee health is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. The employer will provide all the tools, and the employee must comply. Employers have a greater responsibility to ensure that the health and safety of their workers are protected while on-premise and provide risk measures, training, and supervision.

See related: Workers Compensation Benefits

What is the main focus of occupational health?

So why is occupational health important and what is its focus? As an aspect of public health services, it not only looks to prevent work related injury and maintain a high degree of mental health and wellbeing but it also looks to:

  • Improve the working environment and ensure working conditions are favorable to workers.
  • Maintain and promote workers’ health and working capacity during work. 
  • Foster and develop a strong working organizational culture that encourages a supportive environment to promote health and safety.
  • Advocate for a positive social climate and smooth operation to achieve organizational productivity.

What are the types of occupational health?

An essential part of occupational health services involves identifying and managing workplace hazards. A workplace hazard is a potential source of harm or adverse health effect on a worker. These can include physical, chemical, biological, psychological, and ergonomic occupational hazards. Occupational hazard refers to those aspects of the work environment that tend to cause harm, endangering people or employees, which can be found everywhere. To ensure safety, employers should put in measures to prevent and reduce the availability of these workplace hazards. Risk is defined as: “the chance of an employee or person being harmed by an adverse effect or exposure to a hazard.”

Different types of hazards:

  1. Physical hazards – These are typically within the environment that can cause harm to the body without touch, such as radio waves, ultraviolet rays, extreme temperatures, or constant loud noise.
  2. Safety hazards – These are the aspects of the work environment that can cause immediate or violent harm to an employee. This could be anything that can cause death or loss of limbs, such as a machine.
  3. Health hazards – These can cause harm or gradual health deterioration to the employee slowly over time, such as gasses, noise, prolonged periods of standing/sitting, high temperature, or heavy workloads. Health hazards may take years before adverse effects are noticed.
  4. Biological hazards – These hazards are associated with working with animals, infectious plants, or people. These could occur while working in daycare, nursing homes, laboratories, etc. where employees could be exposed to this type of hazard. Examples include body fluid, bacteria, animal droppings, fungi, or viruses.
  5. Ergonomic hazards – These occur when the body positions, kind of work, or working conditions put stress and strain on the worker’s body. They are difficult to recognize since you do not always immediately feel the discomfort or adverse effect. Short-term exposure may result in soreness the next day. Other examples include poor posture, improper body mechanics, an improperly adjusted workstation or chair, awkward movement, and repetitive lifting.
  6. Chemical hazards – These hazards can occur when a worker has exposure to chemical preparation in the workplace. This can include gas, liquid, or solid. Adverse effects can include illness, skin irritations, or breathing problems. Employers will need to create an environment of adaptation to prevent exposure. 
  7. Physiological hazards – These are activities at work that can cause stress or strain resulting in either short- or long-term effects. Examples include workplace violence, bullying, lack of respect, workplace demands, lack of flexibility, isolation, and staffing shortages.

What is an occupational health assessment?

As important as workplace health and safety is, it might be hard to understand what may be impacting the environmental health of a workplace. An employer needs to understand what activities in their workplace can impact the health and safety of employees. Occupational health professionals collaborate with employers to conduct risk assessments to protect employee well-being. A risk assessment is a structured examination to identify what occurs in the workplace during those activities that may cause harm to people. Risk assessments allow employers to determine if extra control measures and adaptation must be implemented to eliminate or control workplace accidents and hazards. If the risks are already controlled sufficiently, an employer may not have to take further control measures. A risk assessment is an essential tool to protect workers’ business and complies with the law.

Additional services can include conducting health assessments and physical exams to evaluate employees’ overall health, identify any existing medical conditions, and determine whether they’re fit for specific job roles.  

How is a risk assessment measured?

During a risk assessment, they can evaluate the severity of potential harm from a hazard and categorize their various levels, low-medium-high. These evaluations depend on the level of harm, the number of people exposed, and the number of times the persons are exposed. A risk assessment is an inexpensive and effective measure to ensure that the workforce is protected. Low risk means a low level of harm, people are rarely exposed, and a small number of people are exposed. Medium involves a moderate level of harm and a limited number of people exposed periodically. High risk includes a high level of harm and a large number of people who are frequently exposed.

Why is it important to manage employees’ health and safety?

Employee health and safety management involves taking practical steps to ensure employees are free from injuries and duties in the workplace. Enhanced working environment and conditions improve workplace health, safety, and organizational productivity. 

Good working conditions will help:

  • Improve morale
  • Create a culture of supporting a healthy working environment
  • Help to minimize strikes, delayed work, and absenteeism

Work-related injuries or deaths are very costly and have a series of effects on workers’ lives, families, and employers.

How Ivy Rehab can help

Ivy Rehab can provide the opportunity to collaborate, develop, and deploy job analysis onsite for employers to promote health, safety, injury prevention, and welfare specifically to employees in their workplace environment. Working together with employers proactively through education and coaching helps workers improve overall health, thus reducing the risk of occupational injury.

Article By: Ashley Catapano, DPT, CCI, CEAS I, II, FCE Evaluator, Director of Workers’ Compensation & Industrial Services

Ashley began her Physical Therapy career 16 years ago. Ashley’s clinical passion involves the treatment of patients who have sustained work-related injuries. She has extensive training in Workers’ Compensation, Industrial Services, Employer Wellness, Injury Prevention, and Occupational Medicine. She believes in providing outcomes-orientated solutions for musculoskeletal care and pain management. She places a high emphasis on safe, effective return to work for injured workers. She currently specializes in Workers’ Compensation and Industrial Services. She serves as Ivy Rehab’s Director of Workers Compensation & Industrial Services. 

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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