What Does Occupational Health Mean

Ensuring a safe and healthy workplace has many benefits for both employers and employees. While "occupational health" is a critical element of employment, many people are confused about what it actually means. The following guide will provide a standard occupational health definition as well as important information both employers and employees need to know.

Nicole Slaughter
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What is Occupational Health?

The official occupational health meaning is “a field of public health that studies trends in injuries and illnesses in the worker population and proposes and implements strategies and regulations to prevent them.” In the past, safety and occupational health were primarily focused on keeping manual employees, such as factory workers, safe. However, today it covers all occupations in the U.S.

Occupational health ensures employers implement safety precautions to prevent illnesses and injuries. However, experts now also work to prevent both short-term and long-term issues that could cause physical or mental illness either now or in the future.

The Importance of Occupational Health

If you’re not sure that safety and occupational health is vital in your industry, consider that in the United States, nearly three million workers suffer from a serious work-related illness or injury each year. In addition, workers’ compensation claims total over a billion dollars every week. This also doesn’t include factors such as loss of wages and other issues like decreased worker productivity. Considering the potential costs and the psychological toll of experiencing a work-related injury, it’s clear that taking steps to avoid this is critical for everyone involved.

There are many ways that employees can suffer from the effects of workplace hazards. Some of the most common include:

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Overexertion (33%) – includes repetitive motions, lifting, and lowering (ex. pulling a back muscle while unpacking boxes)
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Contact with equipment or objects (26%) – includes being hit by or falling into equipment
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Slips, trips, and falls (25%) – includes falling on a flat surface or from one level to another (ex. slipping and falling down a flight of stairs)

Understanding these risks can help employers establish regulations to help avoid them.

What is the Role of Occupational Safety and Health Administration?

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created in 1970 to create safe and healthy working conditions for workers by establishing and enforcing safety standards. OSHA also provides outreach, training, assistance, and education to employers across the nation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act covers the bulk of private-sector employers and their employees and some public-sector employers and employees. Employers are required to follow the standards set by OSHA, and failing to comply can result in significant penalties which may include both fines and, for some violations, the possibility of imprisonment.

How Can Employers Ensure a Safe and Healthy Workplace?

Many employers choose to go above and beyond OSHA requirements, both for ethical reasons and because work-related injuries and illnesses can lead to higher employee turnover, a loss of productivity, and potentially higher employer-subsidized health insurance premiums. In this case, they may have occupational health policies that are stricter and more detailed than those required by OSHA.

Some of the most common occupational health examples that employers may implement to protect worker safety include:

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Ensuring the workplace is free of hazards
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Properly maintaining tools and equipment
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Developing written safety policies
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Providing an ergonomically designed workspace
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Providing safety training
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Establishing a drug-free workplace
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Prominently posting OSHA posters as required
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Providing ongoing mental health support to employees
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Ensuring employees know how to access occupational health services

While many of these examples are required by OSHA, some, such as requiring employee drug tests, are optional in many industries. However, the potential benefits of occupational drug testing are well documented, making this a positive move for employers in a variety of fields.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the meaning of occupational health and safety?

Occupational health and safety is a field of public health that studies the causes of workplace injuries and illnesses and proposes and implements rules and regulations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace environment.

What are examples of occupational health?

Requiring employees or job candidates to submit to an occupational drug test, properly maintaining equipment, ensuring that the workplace is free of hazards, and following OSHA guidelines are all examples of occupational health standards.

Citations

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Correll, Robyn. “What Is Occupational Health and Safety?” Very Well Health, 17 February 2022, https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-occupational-health-and-safety-4159865
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“Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses – 2020.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 3 November 2021
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“Business Case for Safety and Health.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, https://www.osha.gov/businesscase
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“About OSHA.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, https://www.osha.gov/aboutosha#
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“OSH Act of 1970 – Sec. 17. Penalties.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/oshact/section_17
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“Employer Responsibilities.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, https://www.osha.gov/workers/employer-responsibilities
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“What is Occupational Health?” Uprise Health, 22 September 2019, https://uprisehealth.com/resources/what-is-occupational-health/
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Occupational Health

Read Health Street's informative articles about occupational health testing.

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Occupational Health

Read Health Street's informative articles about occupational health testing.