What determines the health of workers?
Sheila Pantry OBE
Primary care centres could provide some essential interventions for protecting workers’ health, such as advice for improving working conditions, detection of occupational diseases and health surveillance of workers, though in most countries the focus is still on medical treatment rather than prevention.
Economically active people spend on an average about one third of their time at the workplace. Employment and working conditions have powerful effects on health equity. Good working conditions can provide social protection and status, personal development opportunities, and protection from physical and psychosocial hazards. They can also improve social relations and self esteem of employees and lead to positive health effects. The health of workers is an essential prerequisite for household income, productivity and economic development. Therefore, restoring and maintaining working capacity is an important function of the health services.
Health risks at the workplace, such as heat, noise, dust, hazardous chemicals, unsafe machines and psychological stress, cause occupational diseases and can aggravate other health problems. Conditions of employment, occupation and the position in the workplace hierarchy also affect health. People working under stress or with precarious employment conditions are likely to smoke more, exercise less and have an unhealthy diet.
In addition to general health care, all workers – and particularly those in high-risk occupations – need health services to assess and reduce exposure to occupational risks, as well as medical surveillance for early detection of occupational and work-related diseases and injuries. Chronic respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, noise-induced hearing loss and skin problems are the most common occupational diseases. Yet only one third of countries have programmes in place to address these issues. Work-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as well as cardiovascular diseases and depression caused by occupational stress result in increasing rates of long-term illness and absence from work. Occupational NCDs include occupational cancer, chronic bronchitis and asthma caused by air pollution in the workplace and radiation.
Despite these diseases, in the majority of countries physicians and nurses are not adequately trained to address work-related health problems and many countries do not offer postgraduate education in occupational health. For further information see www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs389/en
This month’s OSHWORLD FOCUS is entitled “Quam artem exerceas?” = “What kind of work do you do?” because 2014 is a special year for those interested in the history of occupational medicine. We commemorate the third centennial of the death of Bernardino Ramazzini (1633 – 1714) who wrote the book Diseases of Workers. As a result of these studies, Ramazzini is regarded as the father of occupational medicine.
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It is always good to review health, safety, chemical, fire and environment procedures on a regular basis. It is also important that the practices and systems in the workplace are constantly reviewed and if necessary, improved. This review may also indicate training requirements and updates and re-thinking how systems and services can be improved. This is where the free-of-charge OSHWORLD can help you.
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Don’t work harder – work smarter! Be ahead of the game.
Well did you have a zero accident, incident-free and healthy year in 2013 in your workplace? Some would argue that this is not possible! But keep on trying again in 2014!
And do continue to make plans for your campaigns for 2014 and beyond!