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OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
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
of people at
The goals of occupational safety and health programs include 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 jurisdictions, 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.
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, preventative 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.
Although work provides many economic and other benefits, a wide array of workplace hazards also present risks to the health and safety of people at work. These include but are not limited to, “chemicals, biological agents, physical factors, adverse ergonomic conditions, allergens, a complex network of safety risks,” and a broad range of psychosocial risk factors. Personal protective equipment can help protect against many of these hazards.
affect many people in the workplace. Occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States, with 22 million workers exposed to hazardous noise levels at work and an estimated $242 million spent annually on worker’s compensation for hearing loss disability. Falls are also a common cause of occupational injuries and fatalities, especially in construction, extraction, transportation, healthcare, and building cleaning and maintenance. Machines have moving parts, sharp edges, hot surfaces and other hazards with the potential to crush, burn, cut, shear, stab or otherwise strike or wound workers if used unsafely.
(biohazards) include infectious microorganisms such as viruses and toxins produced by those organisms such as anthrax. Biohazards affect workers in many industries; influenza, for example, affects a broad population of workers. Outdoor workers, including farmers, landscapers, and construction workers, risk exposure to numerous biohazards, including animal bites and stings, urushiol from poisonous plants, and diseases transmitted through animals such as the West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Health care workers, including veterinary health workers, risk exposure to blood-borne pathogens and various infectious diseases, especially those that are emerging.
· With many employees traveling to and from international destinations, monitoring and controlling infectious diseases has become an important safety issue.
Employers can take steps to prevent the entry or spread of infectious diseases into their workplaces. These steps include:
1. Closely monitor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel alerts about health concerns. Access this information at www.cdc.gov.
2. Provide daily medical screenings for employees returning from infected areas.
3. Deny access to your facility for 10 days to employees or visitors returning from affected areas.
4. Tell employees to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory system symptoms.
5. Clean work areas and surfaces regularly.
6. Stagger breaks. Offer several lunch periods to reduce overcrowding.
7. Emphasize the importance of frequent hand washing and make hand sanitizers easily available.
Dangerous chemicals can pose a chemical hazard in the workplace. There are many classifications of hazardous chemicals, including neurotoxins, immune agents, dermatologic agents, carcinogens, reproductive toxins, systemic toxins, asthmagens, pneumoconiotic agents, and sensitizers. Authorities such as regulatory agencies set occupational exposure limits to mitigate the risk of chemical hazards. An international effort is investigating the health effects of mixtures of chemicals. There is some evidence that certain chemicals are harmful at lower levels when mixed with one or more other chemicals. This may be particularly important in causing cancer.
include risks to the mental and emotional well-being of workers, such as feelings of job insecurity, long work hours, and poor work-life balance. A recent Cochrane review – using moderate quality evidence – related that the addition of work-directed interventions for depressed workers receiving clinical interventions reduces the number of lost work days as compared to clinical interventions alone. This review also demonstrated that the addition of cognitive behavioral therapy to primary or occupational care and the addition of a “structured telephone outreach and care management program” to usual care are both effective at reducing sick leave days.
– Educating employees about statistics and how the disease work
– Creation of policies to respect employee privacy and protect rights
– Provide testing as part of wellness programmes
Terrorism/ War/ Kidnapping/ Crime
Critical issues for Health, Safety and Security in the international organization which may impact Human Resources. (Summarised)
– Issues of safe drinking water
– Issues of proper sanitation
– Issues of proper disposal of waste
– Issues of no safety protocol
– Issues of irregular inspections of organisation
-Issues of defective safety equipment (e.g. fire extinguishers)
– Exposure to hazardous chemicals/ materials
– Issues of not enough security personnel
– Issues of poor surveillance equipment
– Issues of terrorism/ local disruption
– Criminal/ Violent acts
Ways in which Health, Safety and Security effects may be minimized
*Reduce Unsafe Conditions
– Identify and eliminate unsafe conditions
– Use administrative means such as job rotation
– Use personal protective equipment
*Reduce Unsafe Acts
– Emphasise top management commitment
– Emphasise safety
– Establish a safety policy
– Reduce unsafe acts through selection
– Provide safety training
– Use posters and other propaganda
– Use positive reinforcement
– Use behaviour-based safety programs
– Encourage worker participation
– Conduct safety and health inspections regularly
*Prevention of terrorism/ crime and implementing security measures
Evacuation contingency plans should contain:
– Methods for early detection of a problem
– Methods for communicating the emergency externally
– Communication plans for initiating an evacuation
– Communication plans for those the employer wants to evacuate that provide specific information about the emergency and let them know what action they should take next.
HR’s Responsibility for Occupational Health and Safety
While health and safety is everyone’s responsibility, HR has a role to play. Health and safety truly is everyone’s business. This is actually enshrined in many countries occupational health and safety legislation under what’s known as the internal responsibility system.
The concept of internal responsibility recognizes the workplace parties themselves, including management, workers, health and safety committees and unions (if applicable) — not government inspectors, lawyers or consultants — are in the best position to help prevent workplace accidents and illnesses.
Because of the involvement of so many stakeholders, it’s pretty obvious health and safety isn’t exclusively the domain of HR. But HR does have an important role to play, along with the other workplace parties.
Legislation Assumes an Adversarial Environment
The shared responsibility for health and safety makes perfect sense, but in some ways it can result in unforeseen consequences. For one thing, the legislation basically assumes an adversarial environment and a rigid classification of employees into “workers” and “managers” or “supervisors.”
For example, under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), health and safety committees — which must include management and worker representatives — are required to complete workplace inspections periodically. While management representatives are entitled to and should participate in workplace inspections, strangely enough, the legislation only requires worker representatives to be present.
Provisions like these almost seem to assume a “them versus us” mentality with respect to health and safety. It’s as if “management” is some monolithic, all-powerful group seeking to cut corners, downplay hazards and undermine the health and safety of workers. In most organizations, nothing could be further from the truth.
HR has a role in bringing the parties together and facilitating meaningful dialogue, even acting as a mediator between management and workers where necessary. HR can also help by supporting and having membership in the health and safety committee, communicating to employees the organization’s commitment to occupational health and safety, and training managers and employees on safe work practices.
As I’ve mentioned before, human resources is a management function. Therefore, to a large extent, HR’s mandate with respect to occupational health and safety is to support line management and the organization as a whole by creating and overseeing policies, procedures and programs, dealing with regulatory compliance and reporting requirements, and advising, coaching and training line managers and employees.
But just because HR is part of an organization’s management team doesn’t mean there isn’t an important employee advocacy role there too. This is true especially where employees express concerns around health, safety and wellness, or where managers do try to cut corners, keep hazards under wraps or fail to report workplace accidents.
Health and safety matters can be extremely technical and complex in some environments, meaning that much of the responsibility for safety management must be delegated to occupational health and safety specialists, who may or may not fall under the umbrella of the HR department. Yet, even in such organizations, HR typically has a role to play in developing and enforcing policies, training, overseeing the functioning of the health and safety committee, communication and regulatory reporting.
There are also many areas where health and safety overlaps with core aspects of human resources management. These include workplace harassment and bullying, attendance management, disability management, workers’ compensation claims, return to work programs, job design, wellness initiatives and performance management.
Four HR Strategies to Promote Employee Health and Safety
Human resources has a vital role in ensuring employee health and safety. Typically, HR departments do not solely facilitate all components of employee wellbeing. As such, managers should utilize all resources possible to create and maintain health and safety standards for an organization.
To further encourage and sustain employee health and safety in the workplace, consider implementing these four practices.
Establish Open Communication
A key component of maintaining employee trust is encouraging open communication on any and all health and safety issues observed. No employee should fear expressing concern or bringing light to an issue they believe interferes with the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) goals of the company. To prevent a fear of communication, recruit and educate the best supervisors to encourage accessibility and interaction within each department. Develop a hiring process that heavily weighs a potential supervisor’s concern for the safety of themselves and those around them. Require human resources personnel to hold one-on-one meetings to actively check-in with employees. An employee feeling hesitant to express concern to their direct manager may feel more comfortable speaking with human resources professionals. Address minor health and safety issues, such as a spreading illness or commute weather advisory, via a company-wide notice or email.
Implement Strict Safety Policies
Ideally, a workplace is completely hazard-free. However, some trades, such as ground construction and mechanical engineering, inherently involve precarious work and unstable environments. Employees not designated to work in certain high-risk positions should be discouraged from entering hazardous zones or attempting jobs they are not certified to complete. Spread awareness by labeling unsafe environments, posting general warning signs and referencing the qualifications needed to enter various regions of a worksite. For corporate office environments that present less physical risk, identify all potential hazards early on and control minor dangerous mishaps, such as broken glass or plumbing leaks.
Coordinate with Facility Management
Similarly to HR, facilities departments play an important part in carrying out safety policies for businesses. By harmonizing OSH goals, HR and facilities managers can better protect employees. HR specialists are aware of the work environment and the unique risks that employees encounter under specific circumstances. Encourage facility managers to invest in products designed to prevent slip and fall accidents, such as anti-slip safety mats, restroom handrails, and entryway umbrella bag dispensers. In addition to promoting safety and hygiene, these simple yet effective safety products cultivate a general sense of wellbeing in the workplace.
Provide Health and Safety Training
Implement required safety training programs for all employees. These programs should include first aid and emergency action plan training. Supply each work zone with first aid kits so small injuries can be quickly remedied. Hold fire and emergency drills as required by jurisdiction; also ensure these procedures are taken seriously and incite active engagement. Encourage employees to be responsible and take sick time when necessary without reprimand.
The best way to execute these strategies is to commit to improving workplace health and safety standards. If necessary, make these goals a part of a yearly business development plan.
With safety standards in place, a business can avoid potential lawsuits and other monetary loss. Further, an employee-focused culture that emphasizes health and safety creates a positive environment for optimal job satisfaction, morale, and productivity.