Definition and Overview
The field of occupational health is not only concerned about the physical wellness of the patient—it also encompasses all aspects of health and safety in an occupational environment. It includes occupational psychology, which aims to promote mental and social health. Other fields such as epidemiology, occupational therapy and medicine, ergonomics and physiotherapy and rehabilitation, are also valuable in occupational health. The field of occupational health, however, has a strong focus on the primary prevention of health and safety hazards in the workplace to avoid or minimised injury and infirmity.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Anyone who works, especially those employed in workplaces that are considered high risk, should undergo occupational health consultation with a qualified medical professional. The consultation will focus on (1) employee’s general health and safety and (2) injury prevention in the workplace.
The consultation’s expected results are the following:
- Discussion of the potential workplace hazards, including information on toxic properties of materials and equipment present in the patient’s workplace
- Evaluation of employee’s fitness for work
- Diagnosis and treatment of occupational diseases and injuries
- Prescription or recommendation of rehabilitation methods
- Provision of health education in the workplace
- Discussion of government laws and regulations on issues regarding health, safety and wellness in the workplace
- Management of health service delivery for workplace concerns
- Prescription or recommendation of occupational hygiene standards to prevent the transmission of diseases
How is the Procedure Performed?
Occupational health consultation can be performed in cooperation with a company or a government agency governing worker welfare. If consulting on a personal basis, the patient can expect the consultation to be similar to that provided by a primary healthcare provider. It typically begins with a short interview to determine what the environment he or she is working in like. The patient’s health and family history can also provide information on the kind of occupational diseases that he or she might be susceptible to. During this consultation, diseases and injuries can be diagnosed through various procedures, including imaging procedures and laboratory tests. Treatment and rehabilitation of these diseases and injuries can be prescribed or provided during the consultation.
The company can also consult an occupational health specialist to promote wellness and safety in the workplace. Identifying workplace hazards, including those listed below, is the number one goal in this type of consultation:
Physical hazards – This can potentially affect a lot of people in the workplace. In the United States, millions of workers suffer from hearing loss due to noise hazards encountered in the workplace. Apart from noise, physical hazards can also include heights, moving parts and hot or extremely cold surfaces and others factors that can cause injuries and disabilities in workers.
Biological hazards - Coming to contact with toxins and other harmful biological origins is also assessed. Viruses, such as colds and influenza, also qualify as biological hazards. People working in the outdoors are constantly exposed to biological hazards in the environment and may develop illness and injury caused by animals, plants and insects. Health workers, including those in the veterinary field, are also exposed to such hazards.
Chemical hazards, such as immune agents, carcinogens, allergens, sensitizers, reproductive toxins, systemic toxins and neurotoxins. Occupational health specialists can determine the limits of occupational exposure to these hazards and identify the symptoms of a possibly more serious medical condition to those exposed to such agents and substances.
Psychosocial hazards that pose risks to the worker’s mental and emotional health. This category includes the effects of long work hours, poor work-life balance and lack of job security. These hazards can cause depression and anxiety in workers, which can compromise their productivity, psychological well-being and behaviour in the workplace.
An overwhelming majority of workers all over the world are exposed to at least one of these hazards in their workplace each day. Consulting an occupational health specialist will allow companies to ensure general health, productivity, efficiency and happiness in their workers. Companies and individuals can also benefit from such consultations in regards to obtaining information and education on how to avoid work-related diseases and injuries.
Possible Risks and Complications
An occupational health consultation in itself is a very safe procedure. However, if the individual or company chose to go against the findings of the consultation, disease or injury is inevitable.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Stress...At Work. Updated June 6, 2014. www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101