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Occupational Health: An Overview 

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines occupational health as ‘an area of work in public health to promote and maintain the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations’, and it is an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace to mitigate against occupational health hazards.  

There are five types of occupational health hazards to consider when identifying and assessing the workplace, they are:  

  • Chemical hazards 

This includes being exposed to toxic, irritant, oxidising, mutagenic or flammable chemicals or dusts. The possible effects of chemical hazards involve occupational cancers, arising from exposure to asbestos and carcinogenic chemicals; respiratory diseases and skin diseases as a result of exposure to various chemicals.  

  • Biological hazards 

The factor that distinguishes this category from naturally occurring biological risks is that naturally occurring biological risks arise from infections from animals, plants and viruses. The biological risks within this category are created by humans such as manufactured pathogens and pharmaceuticals. Included in this category are both communicable and non-communicable diseases.  

  • Ergonomic hazards  

These types of risks involve the study of human-machine interfaces, and matching work equipment to the dimensions and abilities of employees. This can include the designs of specific items and workstations to minimise awkward, repetitive movements or poor postures. Manual handling is also grouped under ergonomic hazards, and the effects of this type of hazard can include chronic back pain and upper limb disorders.  

  • Physical hazards 

This category of risk is slightly different to ergonomic hazards as it focuses more so on noise, vibration, heat (and lack of it), light levels, radiation and compressed air. The long-term effects of physical risks, for example, with high noise levels are hearing loss and tinnitus, and for prolonged exposure to vibration, this can cause effects such as Raynaud’s syndrome.  

  • Psychosocial hazards  

This category would include mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and psychological effects of work and workplace culture, such as lack of control over work and stress. This also covers lone working, night working, shift working, violence, aggression and bullying. 

There are also key factors to consider when analysing whether something causes harm to health. These are:  

  • Duration of exposure 
  • Level of exposure 
  • The mode of exposure e.g contact, inhalation, injection, ingestion etc  
  • The susceptibility and behaviours of those in question e.g age or disability  
  • The workplace environment itself 

The level of effects can also be categorised as acute and chronic. Acute, or immediate effects are instantaneous or develop a few seconds to hours after exposure, and typically have an easily identifiable cause, Acute effects can follow repeated or prolonged exposure and can be recovered from with treatment or preventing further exposure.  

Chronic effects occur over a longer period of time and may take years to develop. Chronic effects produce no obvious signs of ill health at the time of exposure, and are diagnosed by medical professionals. Due to the length of development of chronic effects, they are not easily attributed to a specific health hazard or workplace activity. Sometimes these effects may be permanent but treatment is often available to alleviate symptoms.  

It is easy to see that occupation health hazards, when not addressed, can become seriously detrimental to the health of employees. Our team are on hand to answer any questions regarding occupational health hazards, solutions and effects, and will work with you to ensure that your business has the correct precautions in place.  

For more information, please contact us on 01792 323404 or submit your enquiry here: .