Your Practical Guide to Occupational Health
Date published: September 30, 2011
By Joana Piesare
Occupational Health is a subject that affects every employee and every employer. It is best described in the arena of medicine as a specialist branch of medicine focusing on health in the workplace. It is concerned with the physical and mental well-being of employees. The functions of Occupational Health specialty is contributing healthy workplaces and healthy workforce through advising on work-related illnesses and accidents at work, carrying out surveillance on health risks for employees and general monitoring the health at work. Occupational Health is usually seen as the medical wing of Human Resource in any organisation.
In recent times the Ghana government has attempted to launch and implement Occupational Health Policies and Strategies to help employers and employees have better protection over healthy risks they are exposed to at work, hence creating healthy workplaces. Honourable Mr. Yieleh Chireh launched an Occupational Health policy for health care workers in August this year.
The awareness is certainly being raised from a top down approach which sometimes has the potential to take the ownership away for the benefactors; employers and employees. After all is said health and for this matter occupational Health is about employees and the employers who are the individuals who need to have a good understanding of their health at work and own majority of the responsibility for their health at work.
My aim in this column is to raise educational awareness to the individual (employer and employee to have an understanding of their occupational health issues and confidently look after their health at work.
Occupational Health as described by the International Labour Organisation.
‘Occupational Health should aim at – the promotion and maintenance to the highest degree of physical, mental and social well being of workers in all occupations; the prevention among workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health; placing and maintenance of a worker in an occupational environment adapted to his physiological and psychological equipment and, to summarise, the adaption of work to people and of each person to their job ( ILO,WHO 1950)
This would usually include functions like:
o Identification and assessment of the health risks and hazards in the workplace.
o This would usual involve practical step by step risk assessments or by monitoring and keeping data of the general health complaints from individuals working in the environment or using ill health data from previous or similar set ups. Usually five reported ill health complaints with origin from the work environment is an evidence of an emerging health trend that needs to be addressed by adaptations to the work environment.
o Occupational Health would also involved in providing adequate work related information to employers and employees on health and Safety, hygiene and protective equipment. So for example occupational Health would be responsible for giving the right advice to say hospitals on the choice of gloves for use that adequately protects health care workers and also prevents ill health trends like contact dermatitis or latex allergy.
What are the benefits of Occupational Health to the employer:
o It brings job satisfaction to your workers
o It ensures that you are not faced with huge industrial injury litigation costs.
o Your workers can be reviewed for fitness following illness and overseeing the rehabilitation aspects which enables the employees to contribute to the business even if not fully fit.
o Ensure that people are fit to do the job they are employed for.
o Improved staff performance and motivation ultimately increases profitability
o Having an occupational Health or practicing health at work means work related disease and its adverse effects on your employees are detected and prevented before it turns into morbidity or mortality
o Reduces the personal and business costs of sickness absence, lost production and personal
Benefits for employees
o Even though Occupational Health does not serve as a substitutes to your general hospital medical service, any risks that you could be exposed to at the workplace that could cause short term or long term illness is completely prevented. A common condition will be exposure to asbestos (in the construction industry) causing asbestosis and mesothelioma, common severe conditions associated with exposure to asbestos. Long term back pain associated with poor posture at work, especially for the office/computer worker.
o A happy workplace generally creates a happy workforce
o Prevention of work related ill health means long term happiness with home life.
Having given a taste of what Occupational Health means for the individual (employer and employee), in my next editions I will deal with specific work related health risks and how it affects individuals.
Please forward all questions and answers to www.facebook.com/joana piesare/
Topic for today
For the purpose of continued education I have chosen to address these issues on topic by topic basis to be able to give an in depth analysis of how everybody can part take in this occupational health education process.
My topic for today is office based workers/computer users. This includes all those working in offices. For example: Secretaries, bank workers, lawyers and the like
What health Risks am I exposed to:
The main risk you are exposed to are musculoskeletal disoders – primarily back pain but this includes arms, shoulder, neck, thigh and leg pains because of the fact that you are having to sit for long hours and sometimes forgetting to get up and stretch yourself every now and then. Not exercising your back continuously cause the muscles in your back to be weak and over a period of time you tend to have less muscular resilence.
Action for you is to take regular breaks. Breaks does not always as mean being away form the office for a chat, it means changing your work activities/ tasks.
For example if you are secretary you could plan your day such that you only use your breaks (change of activity time) to do your filing or responding to other not typing responsibilities. Regular exercises like walking, running or swimming helps to maintain your good muscles.
Poor posture- Apart from sitting for long hours your posture could be wrong. If you are sitting in a poor posture for hours then your likely to have upper back pain, shoulder and arm ache all the time. In time this will develop into a chronic condition which becomes difficult for you to continue with your work.
In the next month’s session we will explore how to sit right.
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