Definition and Overview
Occupational medicine is a branch of clinical medicine that focuses on the identification and management of health risks that people may face in the workplace. It is targeted towards companies or corporations and their employees and focuses on the prevention, evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of any health issues that may be experienced at work. It also ensures that companies comply with laws regarding workplace safety.
The study of occupational medicine is founded on the belief that workplace safety and workers’ well-being are affected by a whole interplay of different factors. The scope of the field also changes as the relationships and standards of the society, government, labor unions, employers and workers evolve.
The specific goals of occupational medicine are:
- Identify potential hazards in the workplace to ensure its safety
- Maintain the physical and mental well-being of workers
- Prevent occupational accidents and injuries
- Assess workers’ health and fitness to determine whether they are fit to work
- Diagnose and treat occupational injuries
- Rehabilitate workers who have become sick or injured in the line of duty
- Develop and implement health programs in the workplace
Some of the hazards that occupational medicine deals with or evaluates include:
- Toxic materials used in production
- Stressors in work processes
- Industrial hygiene
- Indoor air quality and other environmental issues
- Workplace violence
- Workplace diseases and injuries
In achieving these goals, occupational medicine combines different disciplines, including:
- Preventive medicine
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation
- Public health
- Environmental health
Medical professionals who specialize in occupational medicine are called occupational physicians, occupational medicine specialists or occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) physicians. Due to the nature of their job, it is important that they are competent in all areas of clinical medicine. They are also expected to possess a general knowledge of the operations in the workplace and are considered as an integral part of the company. They are typically tasked to interact with both the company’s management team and the labor force as well as come into contact with government agencies, unions, hospitals and public health officials.
Given the fact that the majority of the population spend an average of eight hours per day in the workplace, and that there are large numbers of corporations, occupational medicine plays a key role in the society and is beneficial both to the individual and community level.
When Should You See an Occupational Physician?
Companies or organisations should hire occupational medicine specialists to assess the health of their employees and the safety of their workplace. All employers are recommended to do so as part of their responsibility to their employees. It is also better for companies to use health and safety programs preemptively to protect their workers, so it is best to hire occupational physicians before any accidents, diseases, or injuries occur.
By ensuring the health of employees and the safety of the workplace, companies are also ensuring the continuity of their operations by preventing untoward incidents from disrupting or delaying their processes.
Some companies may hire a full-time occupational medicine specialist as a part of their team, but these physicians also work in hospitals, multi-specialty clinics, and occupational medicine clinics.
- New England College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine