Occupational health relates to ensuring that every business allows each and every one of their employees to undertake their daily work activities in a safe and healthy manner, both physically and mentally.
It also dictates that companies must do everything within their power to tailor each work task to the physical and mental capabilities of employees expected to undertake these tasks.
We will touch upon examples of occupational health hazards within the next section, but for now it is important to understand that occupational health serves only to protect company employees across all departments and levels of seniority.
Occupational health is often deemed as a controversial subject, particularly by senior management, who often view it as an 'irritability' – an obstacle to ensuring the maximum effectiveness and efficiency of their operations.
However, this view is slowly changing, as companies grow more aware of the legal and financial implications of failing to ensure that occupational health legislation and requirements are fully met.
More and more businesses are beginning to realize that it is far more cost-effective to build an effective model of occupational health into their companies, as opposed to dealing with the financial consequences of failing to do so.
Examples of occupational health hazards
While potential occupational health hazards vary wildly from industry to industry, some of the more common are listed below. Most modern companies are now taking steps to actively reduce these risks within their own businesses:
- Environmental hazards – these can include noise pollution, protection from direct sunlight, temperature control and odour control
- Muscoskeletal disorders – these can include repetitive strain syndrome, lumbar problems and vibration white finger
- Chemical hazards – these can include possible contamination, inhalation, ingestion and improper use
- Mental health hazards – these can include bullying, intimidation, racial/sexual/gender discrimination, etc.
This is but a short list of potential health hazards associated with occupational health in the workplace. In the following section we will quickly highlight steps that can be taken to quickly reduce the risk of these hazards occurring within a business.
What can companies do to reduce occupational health hazards?
On a strategic level, companies must ensure that a stringent, effective and efficient occupational health/health and safety department is implemented, and given the resources needed to reduce the risk of occupational health hazards in the workplace.
While a full discussion of risk-reducing steps is beyond the scope of this article, taking the examples we have highlighted in the previous section, a preventative program may include the following:
- Environmental hazards – steps can be taken to ensure that blinds are placed on windows to protect employees from direct sunlight, and ear defenders can be implemented and made available for all employees deemed to be working in noise-polluted areas
- Muscoskeletal disorders – training of office staff on the correct practices for using their computers and work equipment, and job rotation and regular breaks for employees working on a production line
- Chemical hazards – implementing a full HACCP program into the business, ensuring that only fully trained staff are permitted to handle chemicals, and ensuring that harmful chemicals are locked safely away after use
- Mental health hazards – promoting a safe working culture, where staff are encouraged to take all instances of bullying and intimidation directly to their line manager
How important is occupational health?
From a legislative viewpoint, occupational health is incredibly important to businesses. A large number of companies have been forced to close simply through the financial implications of failing to ensure health and safety in the workplace, and this figure is only likely to rise as employees become more educated in terms of understanding their right to work in a safe and healthy environment.
At a company level, it should be obvious that implementing an effective occupational health program has its own benefits to business owners.
Companies with a strong occupational health program are likely to experience lower staff turnover, decreased absence as a result of workplace accidents and ill-health, and vastly increased levels of productivity and efficiency.