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The Importance of Occupational Health and Safety

Gain a complete understanding of what Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is and the various workplace hazards that may exist

What Is Occupational Health And Safety (OHS)?


It is up to us to take care of our health and safety in our own personal space. But what happens when our health and safety depend on the conditions at our workplace? Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) aims at improving working conditions and the health of workers. Management of safety and health conditions leads to a multitude of benefits, including reduced costs associated with accidents and diseases, such as medical care and sick leave, as well as the assurance of worker safety.


The first worker’s compensation law was established in 1911 in Wisconsin. It brought a newfound awareness of workplace safety and health practices. Before 1911, it was hard for workers to take successful legal action against their bosses if they were hurt on the job. The trend of suing employers for mistakes made them more willing to adopt a worker’s compensation program as a way to eliminate tort litigation. It was the first law of its kind to recognize that employers had a responsibility to protect the safety and health of their employees. The compensation law required employers to provide financial compensation to employees who were injured while on the job. This was groundbreaking in the sense that it provided incentives for employers to create safe working conditions and protect their workers from hazardous situations.


Even though there are numerous cases of nonexistent poorly enforced health and safety standards in various industries around the world, OHS interventions have been implemented in several countries. OHS interventions on a workplace level include engineering solutions that decrease the probability of a worker engaging in at-risk behaviors, educating and training activities, and safety-related policies and procedures.



In this guide, you will learn:


1. What are the different types of workplace hazards?


2. Which are the different industries that require OHS practices?


3. What is the International management for OHS?


4. What is OHS training?



infographic presenting the different workplace hazards

Types of workplace hazards


Although work may provide many economic and other benefits, a wide array of workplace hazards also present risks to the health and safety of people at work. Organizations, therefore, rely on competent risk assessment processes to identify and manage occupational hazards. These occupational hazards are mainly associated with overwork, physical, biological, and psychosocial hazards which lead to workplace accidents and impact firms’ productivity and profitability. Thus, health problems resulting from work may have a different origin.


  1. Overwork
    There are harmful effects of long working hours on occupational health. Over the last few years, an increasing body of evidence indicates that fatigue from overwork puts both employees and organizations at risk.

    The World Health Organization, together with the International Labour Organisation estimates that nearly 400,000 people died from a stroke and nearly 350,000 from heart disease in 2016 as a result of working 55 hours or more per week between 2000 and 2016. This makes overwork a major health hazard that causes workers to suffer from exhaustion and stress.
  2. Physical hazards
    Physical hazards are a type of hazards that can cause physical harm in the workplace. Examples of physical hazards include slips, trips, falls, and exposure to dangerous machinery, hazardous materials, and extreme temperatures. There are also many kinds of hazardous chemicals and toxins in different workplaces, including environmental smoke, cleaning products, acids, pesticides, carbon monoxide, and flammable liquids. Physical hazards including burns, shocks and even death can lastly, be brought on by electricity.
  3. Biological hazards
    Biological hazards can range from viruses and bacteria to toxic molds and even pollen. Biological hazards can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, inhalation of airborne particles, and ingestion of contaminated food or water.
  4. Psychosocial hazards
    Workplace violence, discrimination, lack of respect, sexual harassment, and other conditions are hazardous to mental, emotional, and physical health. The burden associated with depression in workplaces is substantial. Barriers to implementing practices included unsupportive managers, lack of knowledge about mental health in the workplace, and lack of training for managers.


OHS by industry


Specific occupational safety and health risk factors vary depending on the specific sector and industry.


Construction


During the last decades, there has been a growing awareness about occupational safety and health risks by the various interested parties in the construction industry. However, despite the substantial improvements achieved, the rate of accidents is still significantly higher than in most other industries. There are two major reasons to explain this high rate of accidents in the construction industry:


  1. the nature of the activities and the particular characteristics of constructions projects and organizations
  2. the financial and economic issues regarding the implementation of additional safety measures in a growing competitive market


Agriculture


The riskiest industries to work in Europe include agriculture and forestry, where frequent accidents threaten their long-term viability. Agriculture is a hazardous industry that requires workers to handle heavy machinery, and hazardous chemicals, and work in extreme weather conditions. As a result, occupational health and safety (OHS) is a critical consideration for those who work in the agricultural sector.


Service Sector


More and more positions in the service sector have morphed into sedentary work as the number of service sector jobs has increased in industrialized countries, creating a separate set of health issues from those related to construction or manufacturing. But not only poor ergonomics threaten your employee’s health and wellbeing: The relationship between work and health in general has become more complex due to modern challenges including rising stress levels, workplace bullying, and overwork in many countries.


Mining Industry


The mining industries adversely impact the environment and the workers. Mining operations can cause irreversible damage to natural habitats and ecosystems. For example, strip mining, which involves clearing large areas of land to access resources, can permanently damage entire ecosystems. Additionally, the occurrence of occupational accidents and injuries is generally higher in the mining industry than in other sectors. Mining is a hazardous occupation and workers are exposed to many potential hazards, including dust, noise, vibration, hazardous materials, and other environmental factors. Therefore, it is essential that mining companies implement robust OHS programs to protect workers.


Healthcare and Social Assistance


Occupational safety and health (OHS) in healthcare is increasingly becoming a priority as the industry strives to create a safe and healthy working environment for staff and patients. Deficient or inadequate hand hygiene before and after interaction with patients, insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), and direct patient interaction is some of the precautions that healthcare workers. Working during the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the interdependence of various components of the work system, such as personal protective equipment, ventilators, monitoring equipment, staffing, work setting, and so on.



Industrial worker in safety mask.

International Management For OHS


To help businesses implement OSH management systems, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released ILO-OSH 2001, commonly known as “Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems.” These recommendations promote ongoing health and safety auditing to assess the effectiveness of OSH initiatives, which is accomplished through a continuous process of regulation, assessment, and action for improvement.


Since March 2021, ISO 45001 acts as a base for international standards for health and safety at the workplace. The standard is intended to be used by organizations of all sizes and industries and can help them to create a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.


The development of professional structures and frameworks has also been an ongoing objective for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) professional bodies and OHS professionals specifically in Europe.


The International Social Security Association (ISSA) and later the European Network of Safety and Health Professional Organisations (ENSHPO) took the focus from that of individual countries to encompass the European Union (EU) with one outcome. In 2010, the International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organizations (INSHPO) took up the challenge of defining a framework for OHS professional practice that would be acceptable and useful globally.



Training on OHS


Raising awareness related to OHS management practices in different sectors that include hazardous workplaces is very important. There are many enterprises that do not carry out any safety actions nor have formally organized OHS services.


Employers that are responsible for OHS prevention activities often dedicate a limited amount of time to these issues, and training on OHS given to the employees is limited. n several cases no training takes place at all. However, OHS training is an essential and vital part of any workplace and should be taken seriously. The goal of OSH training is to increase staff capability, capacity, and performance, which will result in safe and health-oriented behavior that is frequently closely related to certain duties.


In addition to OHS training, proactive risk management is also crucial. This method does not wait for an injury or damage to occur rather it encourages training, processes, and systems to address possible risks that may present in the future. Hazard identification is just one example of a proactive response to organizational risk management in support of workplace accident prevention.


Both OHS training and hazard identification training provide a basis for raising awareness about the importance of developing sector-specific OSH strategies. Large or small-scale enterprises should also take individual actions by continuously auditing their workplaces or making sure that there is sufficient awareness and training among their workers in regard to their health and safety. This is the only means by which workplace safety can be ensured.


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