Occupational Safety and Health: the challenges and opportunities in the 21st century
Sheila Pantry OBE
US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Director Dr John Howard gave an exciting wide-ranging overview of occupational safety and health (OSH) in the 21st century and the challenges and opportunities that we all face irrespective of where we are located in the world.
Dr Howard made the following observations in the Warner Lecture which he gave at the British Occupational Health Society on 20 April 2004.
Globalisation of economies means that no one country can act in isolation. The 21st century workplace is very different from those of previously centuries:
- Demographic changes - slower workforce growth. More difficult to recruit workers. Competition for workers will grow. Average age of workers is increasing - and must increase because of the shortage of younger people being born. It will be essential to retain these chronologically gifted workers, but at the same time this implies that the at older workforce will have age-related health problems and these will need to be accommodated.
- 21st century diseases will need greater attention, e.g. HIV, diabetes, obesity etc and will need to be dealt with globally because of the increasing burden on the health services
- Immigrant populations and ethnic diversity present challenges to the OSH - the cultures of countries need to be understood
- Women - gender balance - increasing female workforce and their needs must not be ignored - e.g. reproductive hazards
- Highly skilled workforce - new knowledge based industries themselves are bringing problems e.g. psychosocial workplace problems such as stress and musculoskeletal disorders. As advances are made in the information technology based industries solutions will need to be found.
- Employment contracts - a far move from the "9-5, job for life scenario" of
the 19th and 20th centuries. Increasing numbers of self
employed people who may not know of OSH problems. (how to communicate with them)
Also outsourced, temporary, short-term contract workers must be reached.
- Requirement for lifelong learning - and possible stress effects
- Biotechnology is offering wonderful advances in treatment for cancer etc, extending life and improving quality of life, but these advances are bringing their own OSH worries for the workers in this already large and increasingly larger industry in the future
- Toxicology is moving from observation technology to being a predictive technology
- Nanotechnology - one of the most exciting developments and a fast growing area already used in many applications, alongside other new technologies, will produce new OSH problems that will need to be understood and the workers given adequate protection. NIOSH is working in this area in the NORA Research programmes. Guidelines will be needed for manufacturers and workers.
- Much research is needed in many areas and the results must be accessible
- Preparedness planning and business continuity must be at the forefront of all country's planning. Witness the tragic 11 September 2001 disaster and the lessons learned. This has great implications for workplaces.
- All countries must be able to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) attacks effectively - especially in the workplace.
- Likewise globalisation of economies means that the OSH profession needs to better understand how diseases can be controlled - in the recent past SARS, new variants of influenza and HIV have all had a great impact on work. A strategy to combat work-related diseases must be formulated and partnerships will be necessary to do this.
- The 21st century world of work is inter-connected and this has far-reaching implications for all of us.
Websites: www.cdc.gov/niosh | www.nano.gov
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Have a zero accident and incident-free year in 2004 in your workplace!