1.2.4 Functions of occupational health services

The classical steps in occupational health practice are:

  • The recognition of the possible health hazards in the work environment
  • The evaluation of hazards, which is the process of assessing exposure and reaching conclusions as to the level of risk to human health
  • Prevention and control of hazards, which is the process of developing and implementing strategies to eliminate, or reduce to acceptable levels, the occurrence of harmful agents and factors in the workplace, while also accounting for environmental protection

The ideal approach to hazard prevention is “anticipated and integrated preventive action”, which should include:

  • Occupational health and environmental impact assessments, prior to the design and installation of any new workplace
  • Selection of the safest, least hazardous and least polluting technology (“cleaner production”)
  • Environmentally appropriate location
  • Proper design, with adequate layout and appropriate control technology, including for the safe handling and disposal of the resulting effluents and waste
  • Elaboration of guidelines and regulations for training on the correct operation of processes, including on safe work practices, maintenance and emergency procedures

The importance of anticipating and preventing all types of environmental pollution cannot be overemphasised. There is, fortunately, an increasing tendency to consider new technologies from the point of view of the possible negative impacts and their prevention, from the design and installation of the process to the handling of the resulting effluents and waste, in the so-called cradle-to-grave approach. Environmental disasters, which have occurred in both developed and developing countries, could have been avoided by the application of appropriate control strategies and emergency procedures in the workplace.

Economic aspects should be viewed in broader terms than the usual initial cost consideration; more expensive options that offer good health and environmental protection may prove to be more economical in the end. The protection of workers’ health and of the environment must start much earlier than it usually does. Technical information and advice on occupational and environmental hygiene should always be available to those designing new processes, machinery, equipment and workplaces. Unfortunately such information is often made available much too late, when the only solution is costly and difficult retrofitting, or worse, when consequences have already been disastrous.

The diagram below shows the role of the Occupational Hygienist in the Prevention of diseases and effects of stressors.

Benefits of Occupational Health and Safety Integration

From: http://www.dir.ca.gov/chswc/WOSHTEP/Publications/WOSHTEP_TheWholeWorker.pdf