Occupational Health and Safety

Ius Laboris specialises in advising and supporting management in both local and international occupational health and safety matters. This includes risk management analysis as well as the creation and implementation of OHS policies and procedures. Whenever you need advice on these matters, our lawyers are here to assist and support medium.

What is occupational health and safety?

Occupational health and safety is a discipline with a broad scope involving many specialized fields. In its broadest sense, it should aim at:

  • the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations;
  • the prevention among workers of adverse effects on health caused by their working conditions;
  • the protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health;
  • the placing and maintenance of workers in an occupational environment adapted to physical and mental needs;
  • the adaptation of work to humans.

In other words, occupational health and safety encompasses the social, mental and physical well-being of workers, that is the “whole person”.

Successful occupational health and safety practice requires the collaboration and participation of both employers and workers in health and safety programmes, and involves the consideration of issues relating to occupational medicine, industrial hygiene, toxicology, education, engineering safety, ergonomics, psychology, etc.

Occupational health issues are often given less attention than occupational safety issues because the former are generally more difficult to confront. However, when health is addressed, so is safety, because a healthy workplace is by definition also a safe workplace. The converse, though, may not be true – a so-called safe workplace is not necessarily also a healthy workplace. The important point is that issues of both health and safety must be addressed in every workplace. By and large, the definition of occupational health and safety given above encompasses both health and safety in their broadest contexts.

Poor working conditions affect worker health and safety

  • Poor working conditions of any type have the potential to affect a worker’s health and safety.
  • Unhealthy or unsafe working conditions are not limited to factories — they can be found anywhere, whether the workplace is indoors or outdoors. For many workers, such as agricultural workers or miners, the workplace is “outdoors” and can pose many health and safety hazards.
  • Poor working conditions can also affect the environment workers live in, since the working and living environments are the same for many workers. This means that occupational hazards can have harmful effects on workers, their families, and other people in the community, as well as on the physical environment around the workplace. A classic example is the use of pesticides in agricultural work. Workers can be exposed to toxic chemicals in a number of ways when spraying pesticides: they can inhale the chemicals during and after spraying, the chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, and the workers can ingest the chemicals if they eat, drink, or smoke without first washing their hands, or if drinking water has become contaminated with the chemicals. The workers’ families can also be exposed in a number of ways: they can inhale the pesticides which may linger in the air, they can drink contaminated water, or they can be exposed to residues which may be on the worker’s clothes. Other people in the community can all be exposed in the same ways as well. When the chemicals get absorbed into the soil or leach into groundwater supplies, the adverse effects on the natural environment can be permanent.

Overall, efforts in occupational health and safety must aim to prevent industrial accidents and diseases, and at the same time recognize the connection between worker health and safety, the workplace, and the environment outside the workplace.

Why is occupational health and safety important?

Work plays a central role in people’s lives, since most workers spend at least eight hours a day in the workplace, whether it is on a plantation, in an office, factory, etc. Therefore, work environments should be safe and healthy. Yet this is not the case for many workers. Every day workers all over the world are faced with a multitude of health hazards, such as:

  • dusts;
  • gases;
  • noise;
  • vibration;
  • extreme temperatures.

Unfortunately some employers assume little responsibility for the protection of workers’ health and safety. In fact, some employers do not even know that they have the moral and often legal responsibility to protect workers. As a result of the hazards and a lack of attention given to health and safety, work-related accidents and diseases are common in all parts of the world.