Occupational safety and health (OSH), also commonly referred to as occupational health and safety (OHS), occupational health,or workplace health and safety (WHS), is a multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people at work. These terms also refer to the goals of this field,so their use in the sense of this article was originally an abbreviation of occupational safety and health program/department etc.
The goal of occupational safety and health programs is to foster a safe and healthy work environment.OSH may also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers, and many others who might be affected by the workplace environment. In the United States, the term occupational health and safety is referred to as occupational health and occupational and non-occupational safety and includes safety for activities outside of work.
In common-law jurisdiction, employers have a common law duty to take reasonable care of the safety of their employees.Statute law may in addition impose other general duties, introduce specific duties, and create government bodies with powers to regulate workplace safety issues: details of this vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) "occupational health deals with all aspects of health and safety in the workplace and has a strong focus on primary prevention of hazards." Health has been defined as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."Occupational health is a multidisciplinary field of healthcare concerned with enabling an individual to undertake their occupation, in the way that causes least harm to their health. It contrasts, for example, with the promotion of health and safety at work, which is concerned with preventing harm from any incidental hazards, arising in the workplace.
Since 1950, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have shared a common definition of occupational health. It was adopted by the Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health at its first session in 1950 and revised at its twelfth session in 1995. The definition reads:
The main focus in occupational health is on three different objectives:
(i) the maintenance and promotion of workers’ health and working capacity;
(ii) the improvement of working environment and work to become conducive to safety and health and
(iii) development of work organizations and working cultures in a direction which supports health and safety at work and in doing so also promotes a positive social climate and smooth operation and may enhance productivity of the undertakings.
The concept of working culture is intended in this context to mean a reflection of the essential value systems adopted by the undertaking concerned. Such a culture is reflected in practice in the managerial systems, personnel policy, principles for participation, training policies and quality management of the undertaking.
— Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health
Those in the field of occupational health come from a wide range of disciplines and professions including medicine, psychology, epidemiology, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, occupational therapy, occupational medicine, human factors and ergonomics, and many others. Professionals advise on a broad range of occupational health matters. These include how to avoid particular pre-existing conditions causing a problem in the occupation, correct posture for the work, frequency of rest breaks, preventive action that can be undertaken, and so forth.
"Occupational health should aim at: 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 capabilities; and, to summarize, the adaptation of work to man and of each man to his job.
Harry McShane, age 16, 1908. Pulled into machinery in a factory in Cincinnati and had his arm ripped off at the shoulder and his leg broken without any compensation.
The research and regulation of occupational safety and health are a relatively recent phenomenon. As labor movements arose in response to worker concerns in the wake of the industrial revolution, worker's health entered consideration as a labor-related issue.
In the United Kingdom, the Factory Acts of the early nineteenth century (from 1802 onwards) arose out of concerns about the poor health of children working in cotton mills: the Act of 1833 created a dedicated professional Factory Inspectorate. The initial remit of the Inspectorate was to police restrictions on the working hours in the textile industry of children and young persons (introduced to prevent chronic overwork, identified as leading directly to ill-health and deformation, and indirectly to a high accident rate). However, on the urging of the Factory Inspectorate, a further Act in 1844 giving similar restrictions on working hours for women in the textile industry introduced a requirement for machinery guarding (but only in the textile industry, and only in areas that might be accessed by women or children).
In 1840 a Royal Commission published its findings on the state of conditions for the workers of the mining industry that documented the appallingly dangerous environment that they had to work in and the high frequency of accidents. The commission sparked public outrage which resulted in the Mines Act of 1842. The act set up an inspectorate for mines and collieries which resulted in many prosecutions and safety improvements, and by 1850, inspectors were able to enter and inspect premises at their discretion.
Otto von Bismarck inaugurated the first social insurance legislation in 1883 and the first worker's compensation law in 1884 – the first of their kind in the Western world. Similar acts followed in other countries, partly in response to labor unrest.
Occupational safety deals with all aspects of physical, mental and social health and safety in a workplace. It is the umbrella for company’s efforts to prevent injuries and hazards in all work environments.
Every industry presents various kinds of safety hazards to its employees. The spectrum of possible occupational safety risks ranges from severe and immediate physical dangers to milder hazards. The more immediate cases can be fires, explosions, chemical hazards or other such dangers that present an immediate threat to an employee’s life. Milder hazards include challenges in ergonomics, workloads, mental capacity and general well-being of employees. The latter kinds of risks often take place in an office environment. However, whatever business you are in, there is always the possibility of an accident happening to someone.
The biggest and non-measurable cost of a safety failure might be of the personal kind. A lost limb or years of mental rehabilitation can force an individual to adopt a completely new lifestyle and even self-identity. It’s hard to define how to put a price tag on those types of incidents. Fatal injuries, where people actually get killed at completing their tasks, are also unquestionably beyond what we can economically quantify. Besides the one being killed, there are several other direct stakeholders such as family and friends, coworkers and other parties that suffer from it.
These accidents also directly impact the company’s bottom line. An injured employee easily means countless lost man hours and quickly adds up to not only billions but trillions of euros in company’s expenses. Only in the US the costs of non-fatal injuries and occupational diseases account for more than estimated $450B. Similarly, fatal injuries in 2013 accounted for the estimated $214B in the US. From a company’s perspective, the expenses do not add up only because of lost in productivity, but also because of the increasing insurance costs.
Another big loss to a company comes from decreased work morale and increased employee retention. People want to feel safe. It comes as no surprise if employees’ work morale decreases after seeing, for instance, a coworker fall of a lifting track because of inadequate safety measures. And the best people tend to leave first.
Instead of just seeing occupational safety as hazards and costs which should be controlled and limited, another viewpoint is to embrace it as an untapped opportunity.
One example of doing this is the story of Alcoa. The aluminum products manufacturer is famous for understanding the importance of occupational safety and showing how investment in it can positively affect company profits. When Paul O’Neill started as the CEO of Alcoa, he announced that he wanted to make the company the safest one in the US. Instead of only wanting to hear reports of already occurred injuries and fatalities, he wanted employees to give out suggestions and ideas how to improve safety. And that eventually changed the whole company culture and employees started to also share their other improvement ideas. Alcoa ended up notably increasing its profits based on ideas that came from their employees. Not only that, but they also learned how to adapt and learn from failure and make better processes.
Companies of all forms and from all fields should really take a look at their occupational safety. Adapting and learning from failure is crucial if a company is looking to improve processes in the VUCA world.
All the previously mentioned reasons are enough to drive a possible change needed at a workplace. We are also living in an era when anyone can update their social media profiles of bad management experiences or post a review of the company to Glassdoor.com. No company should want a possible future recruit to read online that the workplace is not investing in occupational safety. It might soon lead to a situation where the HR department receives less and fewer applications from good candidates.
It is evident that even the smallest acts of not taking care of employees' health and safety are a huge concern for companies both big and small. But the concern should not initially come from complaints in social media. Willingness and interest to invest in occupational safety should strive from a sincere interest in employees’ safety and health and therefore also company’s productivity and growth. This again can be turned into a huge asset in improving employee retention and hiring the best people.
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