What is Occupational health?
Currently, there are 3 billion working people around the world, employed in diverse sectors and working environments. An individual’s occupation is not only a mere source of an income and an extension of his/her career. On an average, each working employee spends almost
50% of his/her waking hours in the workplace. This implies that the kind of environment we end up working in has a huge influence on our overall health and well-being.
Occupational health, thus, encompasses a multidisciplinary entity that focuses on the health (both physical and mental) of workers employed in different sectors.
A work environment which is rife with risk factors that adversely affect your health contributes to occupational hazards and diseases.
Health risk at work could be spawned by a number of toxic and hazardous entities – toxic gases and chemicals, harmful radiation, extreme temperatures, deadly pathogens, unhealthy level of noise, ergonomic hazards, and even psychosocial factors such as work-related stress which could the shape of anxiety and depressive disorders.
What could possibly go wrong at your workplace?
In the USA, 40% of all occupational hazards are related to transportation and motor accidents.
- The first diagnosis of an occupational disease occurred way back in 1775. The disease was Chimney Sweep Carcinoma; a type of fatal skin cancer localized around the scrotum. It was commonly observed among the people who cleaned soot-filled chimneys.
- Additionally, prolonged exposure to asbestos fiber and silica dust could lead to severe asbestosis and silicosis.
- Not to mention, these are the deadliest occupational diseases ever recorded. Marked by acute respiratory malfunction, these conditions are more prevalent among the industrial workers of middle and low-income countries.
- Also, contact dermatitis and eczema are the most common skin diseases contracted at workplaces. The occupations which are at highest risk of such skin conditions are construction workers, hairdressers, catering, healthcare professionals, and metal machine workers.
- NIHL or Noise-Induced Hearing Loss is one of the most preventable yet commonly occurring occupational disease. The onset of this condition happens as a result of chronic, long-term exposure to extreme environmental noise. This usually affects military personnel, commercial jet pilots, mining, manufacturing, and transportation.
- In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” which referred to a series of undesirable symptoms such as recurring headaches, sleep deprivation, aggressive demeanor, irritability, and depression. This is what completely defines work-related stress.
- Likewise, healthcare professionals are exceedingly exposed to pathogens and toxic entities from patients and hospitals on a daily basis. They are at highest risk of contracting blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis. Veterinarians are highly likely to contract zoonotic diseases.
- Furthermore, toxic chemical inhalation could lead to irreversible brain damage. Benzene and formaldehyde are extremely neurotoxic and leading causing agents of brain cancer.
Occupational Hazards: Protection Policies
In order to protect workers and employees from toxic and lethal occupational elements, a system has been devised to systematically control and reduce the onset of diseases and hazards.
Popularly known as the “Hierarchy of Hazard Controls”, this concept takes into the sequential application of these-
Elimination of the hazard-causing agent.
Substituting it with less or zero harm-causing agent.
Engineering the controls to isolate workers from exposure to hazard.
Administering proper work schedule, policies, and warnings to keep workers safe.
Use of protective equipment and gear at work.
Similarly, long-term plans of safeguarding workers from toxic work environment focus on implementing and maintaining occupational hygiene.The following are the critical elements followed by this module.
- Setting standards for exposure limits.
- Making a regular assessment of workplace exposure.
- Regular health surveillance of employees.
- Understanding the relationship between work exposure and health of individual employees.
- Designing better equipment to reduce harmful exposure.
Visible and invisible dangers at work
Biological hazards (Biohazards)
There are three different routes how pathogens could enter our bodies – respiration, transmission through bodily fluids, or contact with germ-containing items.
As a matter of fact,biological occupational hazards cause allergies, infections, or poisoning. Influenza is the most commonly spread biohazard.
Outdoor workers face the risk of getting bitten by insects, reptiles, or arachnids. Certain toxic plants could also cause instant allergic reactions.
Farmers, forest-workers, gardeners, health-care professionals are exposed to a diverse range of biohazard-causing elements.
If you think you might be at a risk of getting exposed to such factors, try including the following protective measures at your workplace.
- Wear surgical masks to protect against air-borne toxins and respiratory droplets.
- Some professions require workers to wear particulate respirators.
- Moreover, the mask or protective gear used should be well-fitting, no loose or open ends.
- Regular cleaning of air-conditioning systems. The microbes within enclosed rooms and halls tend to circulate through air-conditioning.
- Carpets, walls, potted plants, curtains – these are the breeding grounds for pathogens. Make sure these are regularly cleaned.
Industries, agriculture, and transport – these are the major sectors consuming (and expelling) copious amounts of chemicals.
Excessive burning of fossil fuels releases a considerable quantity of noxious fumes and particulate matter into the atmosphere. Moreover, every individual who is exposed to toxic chemicals (in form of liquid, particles, or fumes) is at the risk of experiencing a chemical occupational hazard.
The aftermath of such exposure could be immediate and acute or prolonged and chronic.Pesticides, heavy metals, neurotoxins, and carcinogens have toxic manifestations.
Silica dust, welding by-products, particulate carbon, and automotive exhaust are increasingly deteriorating our cardiovascular health.
Even everyday cleaning products such as disinfectants, chlorine bleach, toilet cleaners and similar items rank high in the toxicity scale. Hence, in order to remain safe against the onslaught of such toxic elements remember…
- Have a safe method of eliminating and disposing of toxic chemical waste. Follow labels carefully on how to dispose of different types of chemicals.
- Likewise, ensure that the working area has appropriate ventilation so that air-borne particles don’t keep circulating within enclosed chambers.
- Similarly,toxic chemicals should be labeled properly. Only those who are completely aware of the safety proceedings should be allowed to handle those.
- Practice proper personal hygiene after coming into contact with such hazardous substances.
- Ensure that there are no leaks or blockade in chemical containers. Wear protective gear as directed by the safety policies.
Any occupational entity that could render physical harm and damage to a worker (with or without physical contact) is categorized as a physical hazard.
These are mainly caused by a release of energy in the form of noise, vibration, pressure, or temperature.
Harmful ionizing radiations and radiations emitted from radioactive substances are also grouped within this category.
As a matter of fact,the most common physical hazard is caused by noise. Either a prolonged and continuous one or a sudden high decibel booming sound that could potentially disable hearing.
Extreme temperature ranges, be it highly heated broilers or sub-zero temperatures of cryogenic labs – both create unfavorable working conditions.
Likewise, physical damage could also be caused by sudden explosions, highly flammable materials, highly-pressurized gas, and certain corrosive metals. Not to mention, radioactive exposure can bring cellular level damage and lethal genetic mutations.
It is, thus, important to follow these protective measures when dealing with such elements at work.
- Most of the physical injuries at work are caused by workers slipping and falling down. Wearing anti-slip footwear should be the first priority. Hence, it is also important to clean up after spills, have strong ladders, proper lighting, neatly arranged wires, and an overall organized workstation/floor to avoid such mishaps.
- Similarly, electrical tools and equipment should be properly insulated. There should be proper access to fire extinguishers.
- Not to mention, the noise level should be lower than 80 decibels (if continuous) and 135 decibels (if sudden).
- Additionally, it is important to have a favorable temperature at your workstation, especially if you are involved in heavy physical work.
- Similarly, proper protective gear should be worn if the job entails working with lasers, radioactive radiations, microwaves, electromagnetic fields, and UV radiation.
The word psychosocial occupational hazard immediately conjures up the ideas of occupational stress and anxiety.
Though this category of hazard does include the adverse effects of stress and anxiety, a psychosocial hazard is not just limited to that.
Additionally, work-life stressors can degrade mental well-being and make people more susceptible to a violent and aggressive behavior.
Additionally, they also lead to the onset of several chronic ailments such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, and musculoskeletal disorders.
Bullying, threats, and even sexual harassment is counted as a part of psychosocial hazard. In order to prevent your professional sphere from becoming a source of unending mental fatigue, try incorporating these techniques…
- Provide workers a clear picture of what their job responsibilities entail. Have clear lines of communication. As a matter of fact, role ambiguity and role conflict create major work stressors.
- Likewise, job instability, stagnation, and uncertainty can drive people anxious. Make sure these issues are dealt in a clear and supportive manner.
- Additionally, have reasonable working hours and allow some level of flexibility in work life.
- Not to mention, gain feedback from employees and try to find out what might be stressing them. Nurture healthy interpersonal relationships at work.
- Also,make sure that the employees feel safe at work. Deal with abuse and harassment complaints with strictness and justice.
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