When you’re looking for a job, the first things we tend to look at are salary, location, and benefits. Nothing wrong with that. But whatever workplace that may be, there’s one thing we often ignore - occupational health and safety. What is that, you ask? Sounds like something that only construction workers or those with physical work hazards should worry about. And yes, that’s certainly true in part. But that’s not the only thing that it encompasses. In this article, we’ll talk about occupational health and safety, its importance, and even solutions on how to stay safe and healthy in any workplace.
What is Occupational Health and Safety?
Most people would associate this term with jobs that deal with physical hazards such as chemicals, heavy metals, dangerous machinery, noise, electricity, and toxic waste. And they’d be right in a way. Occupational health and safety actually refers to all aspects of health and safety in the workplace with an emphasis on how to identify and control the risks from workplace hazards as well as how to maintain a healthy and safe working environment. Yes, this does include reducing risk factors that can lead to illnesses, injuries, and deaths. But this encompasses more than just physical health and safety but the emotional and mental as well. OHS efforts are aimed at ensuring that all working environments have the necessary safety precautions to prevent or limit short-term and long-term hazards. This means that the working conditions of any company should also take into account other determinants that can affect OHS such as working hours, workplace policies (i.e. maternity leave), salary, health promotion, and protection provisions.
What is Industrial Hygiene?
According to the American Industrial Hygiene Association, industrial hygiene is "a science and art devoted to the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, prevention, and control of those environmental factors or stresses arising in or from the workplace which may cause sickness, impaired health and wellbeing, or significant discomfort among workers or among citizens of the community."
In short, occupational hygiene, as it is sometimes called, is about identifying hazards and potential dangers in the workplace and developing solutions to prevent or control potentially dangerous situations within the workplace. For example, an industrial hygienist will check indoor air quality which can cause sick building syndrome and recommend solutions for improving air quality. He will also look into potentially hazardous agents in the workplace such as asbestos, pesticides, and radon gas as well as come up with solutions on how to limit exposure and even train workers on how to handle job-related risks. Even office workers may be inspected for cumulative trauma disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress injuries.
What are Occupational Health Hazards and its Solutions?
Issues that concern occupational health and safety are vary widely depending on the occupation. For example, physical hazards due to heavy machinery and tall heights are issues that are found in construction work sites. On the other hand, mental health and repetitive stress injuries are more likely to occur in office environments. This is why occupational health solutions will also vary depending on the type of workplace being evaluated.
1. Biological Hazards
These include viruses, fungi, bacteria, and other living organisms that can enter the body (either directly or through a break in the skin) and cause acute or chronic infections. Individuals who deal with plants or animals, their products, or food may be exposed to this kind of hazard. The same goes for individuals who work in laboratories and hospitals. To limit potential exposure to such hazards, it is important for employees practice proper personal hygiene. This could be as simple as washing hands. In some cases such as in the care of stethoscopes and thermometers, the use of disinfecting wipes would be enough. With certain hospital tools such as surgical instruments, needles, and intravenous catheters, high level disinfectants are required to kill all vegetative microorganisms, mycobacteria, viruses, fungal spores, and some bacterial spores.
One of the leading causes of deaths among construction workers is falls. And most of the time, it is entirely preventable. Precautions include the use of safety equipment such as harnesses, scaffolds, and fall arrest systems. It is also imperative that all workers are trained to use all of the equipment he or she needs.
3. Repetitive Stress Injuries
Due to the fact that many employees work almost exclusively in front of computers, injuries caused by repetitive motions (typing away at a keyboard and using a mouse for hours on end) and poor posture are a growing concern. Some of the injuries caused by these issues include eye strain, back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. One way to help prevent these occurrences is for employers to invest in ergonomics and standing desks. Promoting exercise and walking breaks within the work day can also ease the health issues caused by living a sedentary lifestyle.
4. Chemical Hazards
Harmful chemicals in any form can have toxic effects on an individual if they are inhaled, absorbed by the skin, or ingested. Some can cause minor irritation while other can be toxic or corrosive. The risk of exposure to these chemical hazards, therefore, must be limited. Some occupational health solutions include the proper labeling of all containers containing hazardous substances and wearing proper personal preventive equipment such as gloves and masks.
5. Work-related Stress
Pressure in the workplace is unavoidable especially in this fast-paced world we live in. It can keep people motivated, alert, able to learn new things, and overcome new challenges. However, when that pressure exceeds what a person is capable of bearing, then it becomes work-related stress. And we all know what stress can do to our body and mental health. The causes of work-related stress are many and varied. These include poor management, lack of support, poor work organization, and poor work design. Typically, when a person is presented with work demands that is beyond his knowledge and capabilities, then his ability to cope is challenged. Some tips to reduce work-related stress is to provide clear roles within an organization, flexible working hours, enabling employees to participate in the decision-making, providing recognition and respect, and a good organizational culture.