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What is Occupational Health?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Occupational health is a branch of medicine which is concerned with the intersection of work and health. Many workplaces contain risks for employees, ranging from offices where people can develop repetitive strain injuries to high rise construction projects where people are at risk of serious falls. In fact, occupational health is such a major concern for many governments that entire government agencies are developed to the safety and health of workers, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in the United States.

Specialists in occupational health may work with individual patients who have work-related injuries, helping the patients recover and developing plans to help the patients avoid injury in the future. This work can include routine screening of people in risky professions, patient education to prevent common workplace injuries, and physical examinations to determine the level of someone's disability after a workplace injury.

The practice of occupational health is also concerned with the health and safety of workplaces as a whole. A growing recognition of the need to protect workers led to a number of reforms in the 20th century, including laws targeted at hazardous workplaces such as laws requiring people exposed to radiation to wear tags to monitor exposure levels, laws concerning the types of conditions under which construction workers can work, and laws specifying working conditions in a variety of settings from abbatoirs to spas.

One of the cornerstones of occupational health is the prevention of injury and disease as a result of occupational exposure. This can include recommendations for ergonomic workplaces to protect office workers, along with laws which address specific risks in the workplace like electrocution, falls, drowning, car accidents, crush injuries, shipwrecks, and so forth. Many careers are surprisingly hazardous, and occupational health and safety legislation has greatly improved conditions for workers.

In addition to working with patients and in workplaces, making recommendations for safety and efficiency, specialists in this field can also be employed as legislative advisors. They may make recommendations and suggestions for policies which are designed to promote the health of workers, and they can also work on the enforcement end of things, inspecting workplaces, equipment, and tools to confirm that they conform with government standards. In all cases, the goal is to balance the need of industries to get work done in an efficient manner with the right of workers to enjoy a reasonably safe working environment, and to have protections if they report workplace hazards or are injured in unsafe workplaces.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By David09 — On Nov 06, 2011

@nony - I'm in the same boat. The only recommendation I would make is to visit a physical therapist. I would recommend occupational health physicians who address the unique nature of your workplace risks. They could probably help you a lot and give you good advice in reducing the strain you feel.

By nony — On Nov 05, 2011

I work in a clean environment, but I still face occupational health safety risks. The most serious of these is that I work on a computer all day. I am a software developer.

Extended periods at the desk without a break can create considerable neck and back strain, in addition to creating carpal tunnel syndrome.

I have to force myself to take breaks at least every hour or so just to give myself a break. I wish there were some way around the problem, but computers are my livelihood.

My workplace provides me with ergonomic chairs and wrist pads but still, I have to exercise common sense in how hard I work.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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