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Occupational safety and health

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Occupational safety and health

Hardware stores in China specializing in safety equipment
Workplace safety notices at the entrance of a Chinese construction site.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) also commonly referred to as occupational health and safety (OHS) or workplace health and safety (WHS) is an area concerned with the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. The goals of occupational safety and health programs include to foster a safe and healthy work environment.[1] 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.[2]

Occupational safety and health can be important for moral, legal, and financial reasons. In common-law jurisdictions, employers have a common law duty (reflecting an underlying moral obligation) to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees,[3] Statute law may build upon this to impose additional general duties, introduce specific duties and create government bodies with powers to regulate workplace safety issues: details of this will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. . Good OSH practices can also reduce employee injury and illness related costs, including medical care, sick leave and disability benefit costs.


Workers cutting marble without any protective gear, Indore, India

As defined by the [4] Health has been defined as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."[5] 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. Health has been defined as 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 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:

"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.
"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[6]

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.


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 1833, HM Factory Inspectorate was formed in the United Kingdom with a remit to inspect factories and ensure the prevention of injury to child textile workers.

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.[7]

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.[8]

Workplace hazards

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.[9]

Physical and mechanical hazards

At-risk workers without appropriate safety equipment

Physical hazards are a common source of injuries in many industries.[10] They are perhaps unavoidable in certain industries, such as construction and mining, but over time people have developed safety methods and procedures to manage the risks of physical danger in the workplace. Employment of children may pose special problems.[11]

Falls are a common cause of occupational injuries and fatalities, especially in construction, extraction, transportation, healthcare, and building cleaning and maintenance.[12]

An engineering workshop specialising in the fabrication and welding of components has to follow the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at work regulations 1992. It is an employers duty to provide ‘all equipment (including clothing affording protection against the weather) which is intended to be worn or held by a person at work which protects him against one or more risks to his health and safety’. In a fabrication and welding workshop an employer would be required to provide face and eye protection, safety footwear, overalls and other necessary PPE.

Machines are commonplace in many industries, including manufacturing, mining, construction and agriculture,[13] and can be dangerous to workers. Many machines involve 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.[14] Various safety measures exist to minimize these hazards, including lockout-tagout procedures for machine maintenance and roll over protection systems for vehicles.[14] According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, machine-related injuries were responsible for 64,170 cases that required days away from work in 2008. More than a quarter of these cases required more than 31 days spent away from work. That same year, machines were the primary or secondary source of over 600 work-related fatalities.[15] Machines are also often involved indirectly in worker deaths and injuries, such as in cases in which a worker slips and falls, possibly upon a sharp or pointed object. The transportation sector bears many risks for the health of commercial drivers, too, for example from vibration, long periods of sitting, work stress and exhaustion. These problems occur in Europe but in other parts of the world the situation is even worse. More drivers die in accidents due to security defects in vehicles. Long waiting times at borders cause that drivers are away from home and family much longer and even increase the risk of HIV infections.[16]

Confined spaces also present a work hazard. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health defines "confined space" as having limited openings for entry and exit and unfavorable natural ventilation, and which is not intended for continuous employee occupancy. Spaces of this kind can include storage tanks, ship compartments, sewers, and pipelines.[17] Confined spaces can pose a hazard not just to workers, but also to people who try to rescue them.

Noise also presents a fairly common workplace hazard: 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.[18] Noise is not the only source of occupational hearing loss; exposure to chemicals such as aromatic solvents and metals including lead, arsenic, and mercury can also cause hearing loss.[19]

Temperature extremes can also pose a danger to workers. Heat stress can cause heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps, and rashes. Heat can also fog up safety glasses or cause sweaty palms or dizziness, all of which increase the risk of other injuries. Workers near hot surfaces or steam also are at risk for burns.[20] Dehydration may also result from overexposure to heat. Cold stress also poses a danger to many workers. Overexposure to cold conditions or extreme cold can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, or chilblains.[21]

Electricity poses a danger to many workers. Electrical injuries can be divided into four types: fatal electrocution, electric shock, burns, and falls caused by contact with electric energy.[22]

Vibrating machinery, lighting, and air pressure can also cause work-related illness and injury. Asphyxiation is another potential work hazard in certain situations. Musculoskeletal disorders are avoided by the employment of good ergonomic design and the reduction of repeated strenuous movements or lifts

Biological and chemical hazards

Biological hazards

Chemical hazards

Psychosocial hazards

Employers in most OECD countries have an obligation not only to protect the physical health of their employees but also the psychological health. Therefore as part of a risk management framework psychological or psychosocial hazards (risk factors) need to be identified and controlled for in the workplace. Psychosocial hazards are related to the way work is designed, organised and managed, as well as the economic and social contexts of work and are associated with psychiatric, psychological and/or physical injury or illness.[23] Linked to psychosocial risks are issues such as occupational stress and workplace violence which are recognized internationally as major challenges to occupational health and safety.[24]

According to a survey by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the most important emerging psychosocial risks are:

  • Precarious work contracts
  • Increased worker vulnerability due to globalization
  • New forms of employment contracts
  • Feeling of job insecurity
  • Aging workforce
  • Long working hours
  • Work intensification
  • Lean production and outsourcing
  • High emotional demands
  • Poor work-life balance[23]

By industry

Specific occupational safety and health risk factors vary depending on the specific sector and industry. Construction workers might be particularly at risk of falls, for instance, whereas fishermen might be particularly at risk of drowning. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies the fishing, aviation, lumber, metalworking, agriculture, mining and transportation industries as among some of the more dangerous for workers.[25] Similarly psychosocial risks such as workplace violence are more pronounced in certain occupational groups such as health care employees, correctional officers and teachers.[26]


Construction is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, incurring more occupational fatalities than any other sector in both the safety of workers and compliance with HSE construction requirements.[30] Health and safety legislation in the construction industry involves many rules and regulations. For example, the role of the Construction Design Management (CDM) Coordinator as a requirement has been aimed at improving health and safety on-site.[31]

The 2010 [32]


Agriculture workers are often at risk of work-related injuries, lung disease, noise-induced hearing loss, skin disease, as well as certain cancers related to chemical use or prolonged sun exposure. On industrialized farms, injuries frequently involve the use of agricultural machinery. The most common cause of fatal agricultural injuries in the United States is tractor rollovers, which can be prevented by the use of roll over protection structures which limit the risk of injury in case a tractor rolls over.[33] Pesticides and other chemicals used in farming can also be hazardous to worker health, and workers exposed to pesticides may experience illnesses or birth defects.[34] As an industry in which families, including children, commonly work alongside their families, agriculture is a common source of occupational injuries and illnesses among younger workers.[35] Common causes of fatal injuries among young farm worker include drowning, machinery and motor vehicle-related accidents.[36]

The 2010 NHIS-OHS found elevated prevalence rates of several occupational exposures in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector which may negatively impact health. These workers often worked long hours. The prevalence rate of working more than 48 hours a week among workers employed in these industries was 37%, and 24% worked more than 60 hours a week. Of all workers in these industries, 85% frequently worked outdoors compared to 25% of all U.S. workers. Additionally, 53% were frequently exposed to vapors, gas, dust, or fumes, compared to 25% of all U.S. workers.[37]

Service sector

As the number of service sector jobs has risen in developed countries, more and more jobs have become sedentary, presenting a different array of health problems than those associated with manufacturing and the primary sector. Contemporary problems such as the growing rate of obesity and issues relating to occupational stress, workplace bullying, and overwork in many countries have further complicated the interaction between work and health.

According to data from the 2010 NHIS-OHS, hazardous physical/chemical exposures in the service sector were lower than national averages. On the other hand, potentially harmful work organization characteristics and psychosocial workplace exposures were relatively common in this sector. Among all workers in the service industry, 30% experienced job insecurity in 2010, 27% worked non-standard shifts (not a regular day shift), 21% had non-standard work arrangements (were not regular permanent employees).[38]

Mining and oil & gas extraction

According to data from the 2010 NHIS-OHS, workers employed in mining and oil & gas extraction industries had high prevalence rates of exposure to potentially harmful work organization characteristics and hazardous chemicals. Many of these workers worked long hours: 50% worked more than 48 hours a week and 25% worked more than 60 hours a week in 2010. Additionally, 42% worked non-standard shifts (not a regular day shift). These workers also had high prevalence of exposure to physical/chemical hazards. In 2010, 39% had frequent skin contact with chemicals. Among nonsmoking workers, 28% of those in mining and oil and gas extraction industries had frequent exposure to secondhand smoke at work. About two-thirds were frequently exposed to vapors, gas, dust, or fumes at work.[39]

Healthcare and Social Assistance

Healthcare workers are exposed to many hazards that can adversely affect their health and well-being. Long hours, changing shifts, physically demanding tasks, violence, and exposures to infectious diseases and harmful chemicals are examples of hazards that put these workers at risk for illness and injury.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, U.S. hospitals recorded 253,700 work-related injuries and illnesses in 2011, which is 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees.[40] The injury and illness rate in hospitals is higher than the rates in construction and manufacturing – two industries that are traditionally thought to be relatively hazardous.

The Occupational Health Safety Network (OHSN) is a secure electronic surveillance system developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to address health and safety risks among health care personnel. OHSN uses existing data to characterize risk of injury and illness among health care workers. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can upload the occupational injury data they already collect to the secure database for analysis and benchmarking with other de-identified facilities. NIOSH works with OHSN participants in identifying and implementing timely and targeted interventions. OHSN modules currently focus on three high risk and preventable events that can lead to injuries or musculoskeletal disorders among healthcare personnel: musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling activities; slips, trips, and falls; and workplace violence. OHSN enrollment is open to all healthcare facilities.

Workplace fatalities statistics

European Union

In most countries males comprise the vast majority of workplace fatalities. In the EU as a whole, 94% of death were of males.[41] In the UK the disparity was even greater with males comprising 97.4% of workplace deaths. In the UK there were 171 fatal injuries at work in financial year 2011-2, compared with 651 in calendar year 1974; the fatal injury rate declined over that period from 2.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers to 0.6 per 100,000 workers[42]

United States

The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor compiles information about workplace fatalities in the United States. In 1970, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job – by 2010, the workforce had doubled, but workplace deaths were down to about 4,500.[43]

The Bureau also compiles information about the most dangerous jobs. The most recent information comes from the year 2006, during which 5,840 people died on the job.

Job Fatalities Fatalities per
100,000 employees
Fishermen 53 152.0
Pilots 104 70.6
Timber cutter 66 93.5
Structural metal workers 36 61.0
Waste collectors 37 29.8
Farmers and ranchers 292 42.5
Power-line workers 38 34.9
Miners 156 37.0
Roofers 81 32.4
Truck drivers 957 23.0
All occupations 5,840 4.0

Management systems


In 2001, the [44]

The ILO management system was created to assist employers to keep pace with rapidly shifting and competitive industrial environments. The ILO recognizes that national legislation is essential, but sometimes insufficient on its own to address the challenges faced by industry, and therefore elected to ensure free and open distribution of administrative tools in the form of occupational health and safety management system guidance for everyone. This open access forum is intended to provide the tools for industry to create safe and healthy working environments and foster positive safety cultures within the organizations.

assessment specification for occupational health and safety management systems. It was developed by a selection of leading trade bodies, international standards and certification bodies to address a gap where no third-party certifiable international standard exists. This internationally recognized specification for occupational health and safety management system operates on the basis of policy, planning, implementation and operation, checking and corrective action, management review, and continual improvement.

The British Standards – Occupational Health and Safety management Systems Requirements Standard BS OHSAS 18001 was developed within the framework of the ISO standards series. Allowing it to integrate better into the larger system of ISO certifications. ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems and ISO 14001 Environmental Management System can work in tandem with BS OHSAS 18001/18002 to complement each other and form a better overall system. Each component of the system is specific, auditable, and accreditable by a third party after review.[45]

Also Standards Australia and the Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR) in France have developed occupational safety and health management standards.[46]

United Kingdom

Guidance note HSG65: Successful Health and Safety Management, published by the British non-departmental public body [47] This systematic approach allows flexibility for the company through good business planning to strategically apply resources according to risk priorities.

National legislation and public organizations

Occupational safety and health practice vary among nations with different approaches to legislation, regulation, enforcement, and incentives for compliance. In the EU, for example, some member states promote OSH by providing public monies as subsidies, grants or financing, while others have created tax system incentives for OSH investments. A third group of EU member states has experimented with using workplace accident insurance premium discounts for companies or organisations with strong OSH records.[48]

The number of OSH personnel employed to ensure compliance to OSH rules varies markedly between countries.[49]

European Union

In the productivity and quality). In 1996, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work was founded.

Member states of the European Union have all transposed into their national legislation a series of directives that establish minimum standards on occupational health and safety. These directives (of which there are about 20 on a variety of topics) follow a similar structure requiring the employer to assess the workplace risks and put in place preventive measures based on a hierarchy of control. This hierarchy starts with elimination of the hazard and ends with personal protective equipment.

However, certain EU member states admit to having lacking quality control in occupational safety services, to situations in which risk analysis takes place without any on-site workplace visits and to insufficient implementation of certain EU OSH directives. Based on this, it is hardly surprising that the total societal costs of work-related health problems and accidents vary from 2.6% to 3.8% of GNP between the EU member states.[50]


In [53]


In Sweden, occupational safety and health is regulated by the Work Environment Act. The Swedish Work Environment Authority is the government agency responsible for issues relating to the working environment. The agency should work to disseminate information and furnish advice on OSH, has a mandate to carry out inspections, and a right to issue stipulations and injunctions to any non-compliant employer.[54]

United Kingdom

In the UK, health and safety legislation is drawn up and enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities (the local council) under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974[55][56] (HASAWA). HASAWA introduced (section 2) a general duty on an employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees; with the intention of giving a legal framework supporting 'codes of practice' not in themselves having legal force but establishing a strong presumption as to what was reasonably practicable (deviations from them could be justified by appropriate risk assessment). The previous reliance on detailed prescriptive rule-setting was seen as having failed to respond rapidly enough to technological change, leaving new technologies potentially un-regulated or inappropriately regulated.[57][58] HSE has continued to make some regulations giving absolute duties (where something must be done with no 'reasonable practicability' test) but in the UK the regulatory trend is away from prescriptive rules, and towards 'goal setting' and risk assessment. Recent major changes to the laws governing asbestos and fire safety management embrace the concept of risk assessment.

For the UK, the government organisation dealing with occupational health has been the Health and Work Service - was created to provide advice and assistance to employers in order to get back to work employees on long-term sick-leave.[59] The service, funded by government, will offer medical assessments and treatment plans, on a voluntary basis, to people on long term absence from their employer; in return, the government will no longer foot the bill for Statutory Sick Pay provided by the employer to the individual.

United States

In the United States, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law on the 29th day of December 1970. The act created the three agencies that administer it. They include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.[60] The act authorized the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regulate private employers in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and territories.[61] The Act establishing it includes a general duty clause (29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)) requiring an employer to comply with the Act and regulations derived from it, and to provide employees with "employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

OSHA was established in 1971 under the Department of Labor. It has headquarters in Washington, DC and ten regional offices, further broken down into districts, each organized into three sections; compliance, training, and assistance. Its stated mission is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.[62] The original plan was for OSHA to oversee 50 state plans with OSHA funding 50% of each plan. Unfortunately it has not worked out that way. There are currently 26 approved state plans (4 cover only public employees)[43] and no other states want to participate. OSHA manages the plan in the states not participating.[43]

OSHA develops safety standards in the Code of Federal Regulation and enforces those safety standards through compliance inspections conducted by Compliance Officers; enforcement resources are focussed on high-hazard industries. Worksites may apply to enter OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP); a successful application leads to an on-site inspection ; if this is passed the site gains VPP status and OSHA no longer inspect it annually nor (normally) visit it unless there is a fatal accident or an employee complaint until VPP revalidation (after 3–5 years)[43](VPP sites have injury and illness rates less than half the average for their industry).

It has 73 specialists in local offices to provide tailored information and training to employers and employees at little or no cost[63] Similarly OSHA produces a range of publications, provides advice to employers and funds consultation services available for small businesses.

OSHA's Alliance Program enables groups committed to worker safety and health to work with it to develop compliance assistance tools and resources, share information with workers and employers, and educate them about their rights and responsibilities. OSHA also has a Strategic Partnership Program that zeros in on specific hazards or specific geographic areas.[43] OSHA manages Susan B. Harwood grants to nonprofit companies to train workers and employers to recognize, avoid, and prevent safety and health hazards in the workplace. Grants focus on small business, hard-to-reach workers and high-hazard industries.


In Canada, workers are covered by provincial or federal labour codes depending on the sector in which they work. Workers covered by federal legislation (including those in mining, transportation, and federal employment) are covered by the Canada Labour Code; all other workers are covered by the health and safety legislation of the province in which they work. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), an agency of the Government of Canada, was created in 1966 by an Act of Parliament. The act was based on the belief that all Canadians had "...a fundamental right to a healthy and safe working environment." CCOHS is mandated to promote safe and healthy workplaces to help prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. The CCOHS maintains a useful (partial) list of OSH regulations for Canada and its provinces.[64]


In Malaysia, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) under the Ministry of Human Resource is responsible to ensure that the safety, health and welfare of workers in both the public and private sector is upheld. DOSH is responsible to enforce the Factories and Machinery Act 1967 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994.

People's Republic of China

In the People's Republic of China, the Ministry of Health is responsible for occupational disease prevention and the State Administration of Work Safety for safety issues at work. On the provincial and municipal level, there are Health Supervisions for occupational health and local bureaus of Work Safety for safety. The "Occupational Disease Control Act of PRC" came into force on May 1, 2002.[65] and Work safety Act of PRC on November 1, 2002.[66] The Occupational Disease Control Act is under revising. The prevention of occupational disease is still in its initial stage compared with industried countries such as the US or UK.

South Africa

In South Africa the Department of Labour is responsible for occupational health and safety inspection and enforcement in commerce and industry apart from mining and energy production, where the Department of Mineral Resources is responsible.

The main statutory legislation on Health and Safety in the jurisdiction of the Department of Labour is Act No. 85 of 1993: Occupational Health and Safety Act as amended by Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act, No. 181 Of 1993.

Regulations to the OHS Act include:

  • Certificate of Competency Regulations, 1990[67]
  • Construction Regulations, 2003
  • Diving Regulations 2009[68]
  • Driven Machinery Regulations, 1988[69]
  • Environmental Regulations for Workplaces, 1987[70]
  • General Machinery regulations, 1988[71]
  • General Safety Regulations, 1986[72]
  • Noise induced hearing loss regulations, 2003[73]
  • Pressure Equipment Regulations, 2004


In Australia, the Commonwealth and each state and territory has enacted and administers harmonised Work Health and Safety Legislation in accordance with the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety.[74] Each jurisdiction has a Work Health & Safety Act and Work Health and Safety Regulation that are based on the Model WHS Laws and common Codes of Practice developed by Safe Work Australia.[75] Mine safety is not covered by these laws and separate legislation is applicable.

Professional roles and responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of OSH professionals vary regionally, but may include evaluating working environments, developing, endorsing and encouraging measures that might prevent injuries and illnesses, providing OSH information to employers, employees, and the public, providing medical examinations, and assessing the success of worker health programs.


In Norway, the main required tasks of an Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner include:

  • Systematic evaluations of the working environment
  • Endorsing preventative measures which eliminate reasons for illnesses in the work place
  • Giving information in the subject of employees’ health
  • Giving information on occupational hygiene, ergonomics and also environmental and safety risks in the work place[76]

In the Netherlands, required tasks for health and safety staff are only summarily defined, and include:

  • Voluntary medical examinations
  • A consulting room on the work environment for the workers
  • Health check assessments (if needed for the job concerned)[77]

‘The main influence on the Dutch law on the job of the safety professional is through the requirement on each employer to use the services of a certified working conditions service to advise them on health and safety’.[77] A ‘certified service’ must employ sufficient numbers of four types of certified experts to cover the risks in the organisations which use the service:

  • A safety professional
  • An occupational hygienist
  • An occupational physician
  • A work and organisation specialist.[77]

It shows in Table 1 (based on the European Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations [ENHSPO] survey to) that in Norway, 37% of Health and Safety practitioners had a MSc education level, and 14% in the Netherlands; 44% were BSc graduates and 63% in the Netherlands; and 19% were of a Technician level and 23% in the Netherlands.[77]


Leather craftsman gloves, safety goggles, and a properly fitted hardhat are crucial for proper safety in a construction environment.

The main tasks undertaken by the OHS practitioner in the USA include:

  • Develop processes, procedures, criteria, requirements, and methods to attain the best possible management of the hazards and exposures that can cause injury to people, and damage property, or the environment;
  • Apply good business practices and economic principles for efficient use of resources to add to the importance of the safety processes;
  • Promote other members of the company to contribute by exchanging ideas and other different approaches to make sure that every one in the corporation possess OHS knowledge and have functional roles in the development and execution of safety procedures;
  • Assess services, outcomes, methods, equipment, workstations, and procedures by using qualitative and quantitative methods to recognise the hazards and measure the related risks;
  • Examine all possibilities, effectiveness, reliability, and expenditure to attain the best results for the company concerned[78]

Knowledge required by the OHS professional in USA include:

  • Constitutional and case law controlling safety, health, and the environment
  • Operational procedures to plan/develop safe work practices
  • Safety, health and environmental sciences
  • Design of hazard control systems (i.e. fall protection, scaffoldings)
  • Design of recordkeeping systems that take collection into account, as well as storage, interpretation, and dissemination
  • Mathematics and statistics
  • Processes and systems for attaining safety through design[79]

Some skills required by the OHS professional in the USA include (but are not limited to):

  • Understanding and relating to systems, policies and rules
  • Holding checks and having control methods for possible hazardous exposures
  • Mathematical and statistical analysis
  • Examining manufacturing hazards
  • Planning safe work practices for systems, facilities, and equipment
  • Understanding and using safety, health, and environmental science information for the improvement of procedures
  • Interpersonal communication skills[79]

Differences across countries and regions

Because different countries take different approaches to ensuring occupational safety and health, areas of OSH need and focus also vary between countries and regions. Similar to the findings of the ENHSPO survey conducted in Australia, the Institute of Occupational Medicine found that in the UK, there is a need to put a greater emphasis on work-related illness.[80] In contrast, in Australia and the USA a major responsibility of the OHS professional is to keep company directors and managers aware of the issues that they face in regards to Occupational Health and Safety principles and legislation. However, in some other areas of Europe, it is precisely this which has been lacking: “Nearly half of senior managers and company directors do not have an up-to-date understanding of their health and safety-related duties and responsibilities.”[81]

Identifying safety and health hazards

Hazards, risks, outcomes

The terminology used in OSH varies between countries, but generally speaking:

  • A hazard is something that can cause harm if not controlled.
  • The outcome is the harm that results from an uncontrolled hazard.
  • A risk is a combination of the probability that a particular outcome will occur and the severity of the harm involved.

“Hazard”, “risk”, and “outcome” are used in other fields to describe e.g. environmental damage, or damage to equipment. However, in the context of OSH, “harm” generally describes the direct or indirect degradation, temporary or permanent, of the physical, mental, or social well-being of workers. For example, repetitively carrying out manual handling of heavy objects is a hazard. The outcome could be a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) or an acute back or joint injury. The risk can be expressed numerically (e.g. a 0.5 or 50/50 chance of the outcome occurring during a year), in relative terms (e.g. "high/medium/low"), or with a multi-dimensional classification scheme (e.g. situation-specific risks).

Hazard identification

Hazard identification or assessment is an important step in the overall risk assessment and risk management process. It is where individual work hazards are identified, assessed and controlled/eliminated as close to source (location of the hazard) as reasonably as possible. As technology, resources, social expectation or regulatory requirements change, hazard analysis focuses controls more closely toward the source of the hazard. Thus hazard control is a dynamic program of prevention. Hazard-based programs also have the advantage of not assigning or implying there are "acceptable risks" in the workplace. A hazard-based program may not be able to eliminate all risks, but neither does it accept "satisfactory" – but still risky – outcomes. And as those who calculate and manage the risk are usually managers while those exposed to the risks are a different group, workers, a hazard-based approach can by-pass conflict inherent in a risk-based approach.

Risk assessment

Modern occupational safety and health legislation usually demands that a risk assessment be carried out prior to making an intervention. It should be kept in mind that risk management requires risk to be managed to a level which is as low as is reasonably practical.

This assessment should:

  • Identify the hazards
  • Identify all affected by the hazard and how
  • Evaluate the risk
  • Identify and prioritize appropriate control measures

The calculation of risk is based on the likelihood or probability of the harm being realized and the severity of the consequences. This can be expressed mathematically as a quantitative assessment (by assigning low, medium and high likelihood and severity with integers and multiplying them to obtain a risk factor), or qualitatively as a description of the circumstances by which the harm could arise.

The assessment should be recorded and reviewed periodically and whenever there is a significant change to work practices. The assessment should include practical recommendations to control the risk. Once recommended controls are implemented, the risk should be re-calculated to determine of it has been lowered to an acceptable level. Generally speaking, newly introduced controls should lower risk by one level, i.e., from high to medium or from medium to low.

Contemporary developments

On an international scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have begun focusing on labour environments in developing nations with projects such as Healthy Cities.[82] Many of these developing countries are stuck in a situation in which their relative lack of resources to invest in OSH leads to increased costs due to work-related illnesses and accidents. As a 2007 Factsheet from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work states: "Countries with less developed OSH systems spend a far higher percentage of GDP on work-related injury and illness – taking resources away from more productive activities . . . The ILO estimates that work-related illness and accidents cost up to 10% of GDP in Latin America, compared with just 2.6% to 3.8% in the EU."[83]


A nanomaterial containment hood, an example of an engineering control used to protect workers handling them on a regular basis.

Nanotechnology is an example of a new, relatively unstudied technology. A Swiss survey of one hundred thirty eight companies using or producing nanoparticulate matter in 2006, resulted in forty completed questionnaires. Sixty five per cent of respondent companies stated they did not have a formal risk assessment process for dealing with nanoparticulate matter.[84] Nanotechnology already presents new issues for OSH professionals that will only become more difficult as nanostructures become more complex. The size of the particles renders most containment and personal protective equipment ineffective. The toxicology values for macro sized industrial substances are rendered inaccurate due to the unique nature of nanoparticulate matter. As nanoparticulate matter decreases in size its relative surface area increases dramatically, increasing any catalytic effect or chemical reactivity substantially versus the known value for the macro substance. This presents a new set of challenges in the near future to rethink contemporary measures to safeguard the health and welfare of employees against a nanoparticulate substance that most conventional controls have not been designed to manage.[85]


There are multiple levels of training applicable to the field of Occupational Health and Safety (OSH). Programs range from individual non-credit certificates, focusing on specific areas of concern, to full doctoral programs. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) offer individual certificates on many different subjects from forklift operation to waste disposal and are the chief facilitators of continuing education in the OSH sector. In the U.S. the training of safety professionals is supported by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health through their NIOSH Education and Research Centers.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work

On April 28 The [87] to raise awareness of safety in the workplace. Occurring annually since 2003,[88] each year it focuses on a specific area and bases a campaign around the theme.[89]

See also

Government organizations


Related fields


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Further reading

External links

  • (US) CDC page on Workplace Safety & Health
  • (EU) Health-EU Portal – Health and Safety at work
  • ILO International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre
  • American Journal of Industrial Medicine
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