What is Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)?
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is an area of public medicine that primarily focuses on the safety, health, and welfare of employees at work.
It is a statutory obligation for employees to provide a safe and sound working environment in many parts of the world, and OHS requires that employers offer both treatment as well as focus on prevention of health problems.
Occupational health and safety has improved greatly over the past couple of decades, which has ultimately resulted in positive outcomes. Overall, global accidents at work have reduced dramatically.
Even high-risk activities have become safer, and methods for operating dangerous machinery that are safer have been introduced. In most cases, occupational health and safety is often enforced by a mixture of legal and executive regulations. Employers also require their workers to practice self-regulation.
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Why Is Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Important?
In the past, most occupational health and safety measures have primarily focused on occupations that involve manual or field labor. However, that has change dramatically over the past few decades. The primary purpose of occupational health and safety programs is to create a safe and a healthy work environment.
When companies implement OHS standards, it allows workers to perform their roles in a safer and more secure environment, free from any major hazards. Without proper OHS standards, the risk of injury to employees would be considerably higher.
In many cases, employers won’t feel responsible for managing safety in the workplace and may completely disregard worker health and safety. This could result in a rapid rise in workers’ compensation claims.
Many occupational health and safety (OHS) standards have been developed over time, mainly as new threats were identified. The history of OHS is long and varied, depending mainly upon countries.
The History of OHS
In Britain, the first time occupational health and safety was mentioned was in 1802, in the Act for the Preservation of the Health and Morals of Apprentices. This was an Act designed to improve working conditions for factory employees or mill workers.
Over time, different acts have been introduced, such as the Factory Act (1833) or The Employer’s Liability Act (1880). The most profound piece of legislation came in 1974, with the Health and Safety at Work Act. This Act covered all employers and industries, identifying both employers and employees as stakeholders for managing worker health and safety.
New legislation was introduced later which further builds on the clauses outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974. These include the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) regulations of 1992.
In the United States, working conditions have often improved in short bursts over the past 150 years. In some cases, change has been driven by legislation, while in other situations, it’s mainly reactive after a major safety incident.
Perhaps the biggest piece of legislation was the introduction of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which was signed into law in 1970 by Richard M. Nixon. This became federal law, putting the onus squarely on employers to improve working conditions.
Major Occupational Health and Safety Issues
Today, there are many occupational health and safety issues that usually differ depending on industries. Here are some of the most common issues that fall under the purview of occupational health:
Slip and Falls
Employees who work at higher elevations are at a risk of falling and sustaining serious injuries. This is a serious occupational hazard that can be mitigated with the provision of appropriate safety equipment.
Slip and fall incidents are perhaps the most common cause of non-fatal injuries. These are also easily avoidable, often with the introduction of basic safety measures.
Illnesses Caused Due to Excessive Heat
There is always a significant risk of workers dying due to extreme heat. Many workers also become ill while working in extremely hot and humid conditions. As you can expect, a majority of these occur in the construction industry.
Under federal legislation, employers are required to ensure that the workplace is free from any safety hazards, which also includes protection from significantly high or low temperatures.
OSHA, for instance, recommends employers to provide awareness to employees regarding dehydration, encouraging them to drink lots of water and to work in the shade.
Injuries Caused Due to Repeated Stress
Repetitive motions or poor posture are both major causes for repetitive stress injuries. Throughout the globe, millions of people suffer from injuries caused by sitting in a poor posture over their computers, typing for hours without breaks, which results in issues like the carpal tunnel syndrome.
Proper ergonomics can play an important role in reducing office-based injuries. It is imperative for employers to invest in training programs and to educate employees on how to maintain the right posture.
Injuries or Illnesses Caused Due to a Sedentary Lifestyle
Considering the fact that a large portion of the workforce now works primarily behind a desk, injuries or illnesses caused due to a sedentary lifestyle have increased. Maintaining proper aerobic physical activity is essential, and it’s important for employers to make sure that they stress the benefits of this.
Numerous studies have shown that employees who sit for longer periods are at an increased risk of death from all causes when compared with those who lead a more active lifestyle.
Manage Occupational Health and Safety with EcoOnline
EcoOnline’s Health & Safety software lets companies manage the occupational health and safety of their employees using a variety of different modules. From building checklists to conducting inspections to knowledge management, it allows companies to easily store and manage all of their health and safety requirements from a centralized dashboard.