Understanding occupational health: What it is and why it is important for your business?

Table of Contents

This blog has been written to provide readers with a broad, better, and holistic understanding of Occupational Health within the workplace. 

What is occupational health? 

Definition of Occupational Health: “Occupational Health is the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations, by preventing departures from health, controlling risks and the adaption of work to people and people to their jobs”.

The organization is looking after the well-being of all employees within the workplace, through the establishment or introduction of well-structured occupational health services into the workplace, or all areas of the organization as a whole. These healthcare services can be established internally, or most commonly outsourced to a professional occupational health provider, as this is not a core to the business or the business’s specialty.  

occupational health services

To better understand, there are four stages of Occupational health services which include:

  1. Recognize 

Recognizing that a particular health hazard exists and can cause harm. This can be achieved by talking to and consulting workers regarding hazards that exist, or the health care workers or your personal observation within the workplace. Examples could be recognizing any risk factor and departures from health.      

  1. Measurements 

Taking measurements (using medical surveillance or actual monitoring of noise, air contamination, vibration, etc) within the workplace and assessing who can be affected by the hazards, who is directly exposed, and workers that are vulnerable such as having existing medical conditions. 

  1. Evaluation 

Assessing the measurements to legislative or industry standards and in so doing evaluating the health hazards and their risk to workers, or the effects of safety to persons. Is this risk acceptable or do additional control measures need to be put in place? 

  1. Controls 

Introducing further control measures to reduce the risk to an acceptable standard and assist in the prevention of occupational injuries and occupational disease. Occupational risk must be controlled “so far as reasonably practicable” or “practicable” depending on the relevant legislation.  

importance of occupational health

Why is it important for business? 

What stands out in the above definition is the word well-being “maintenance of physical, mental and social well-being”. All organisations should strive for and be proud of the fact that they are truly looking after the well-being of all their workforce. 

The definition of wellbeing is: “Well-being is a state of being with others, where human needs are met when one can act meaningfully to pursue one’s goals, and where one enjoys a satisfactory quality of life”. With the workforce knowing that their employer or organization is looking after their well-being, they will feel safe, recognized, cared for which will result in increased motivation, commitment, retention of the workforce and specialized skills, decrease absenteeism trends as well as ill-health and assist with injury prevention. 

A reduction in ill-health and injury also has a positive effect on the bottom line of the organisation’s revenue and profitability, as unnecessary costs and expenditures are reduced. Ill health and injury result in increased costs due to additional compensation, staff placements, and overtime costs to keep production and systems running and operating. Internationally 2 million deaths a year are reported due to work-related diseases! There are approximately 160 million new cases of work-related illnesses every year!         

occupational health legislation

Legislation, rules, and regulations outlined under occupational health

The Occupation Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 governs occupational health within South Africa. Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure the health, safety, welfare, and well-being of all employees within the workplace. The Department of Labour has inspectors that visit and inspect organizations to ensure that the act and occupational healthcare requirements are being adhered to and implemented into all aspects, departments, and areas through the workplace. 

In addition, it is a rule and requirement for organisation to report any injury and ill health to the Department of Labour, who will then investigate the matter and where the fault or nonconformance to the act’s section and regulation is determined, criminal action can be instituted against the guilty and responsible persons. In serious or severe cases, with negligence and a failure in duty of care being proved, could result in up to 2 years in prison, or an R200,000.00 fine, or both!     

occupational health

Understand and implement occupational health to reduce risk, mitigate business practice and benefit     

Organizations must understand that implementing occupational health services will reduce workplace risks and mitigate their business operations, processes and practices to the enforcement authorities, the public and their shareholder.   

This can be achieved by a range of occupational healthcare services related initiatives which could include:

  1. Health Surveillance – Carrying out formal health checks where necessary such as taking blood samples to test for hazardous substances exposure, or testing the hearing acuity of all workers.
  1. Conducting wellness programmes and health promotion campaigns – Promoting health and wellness campaigns through the year, such as reminding all workers of good ergonomic practice, and correct postures for lifting and mechanical handling etc
  1. Advising management – The medical practitioners or the doctors in charge of the occupational health services can provide valuable advice and results from monitoring and testing to the top management team, who can then approve the implementation of additional controls and expenditure to protect the workforce and take a proactive approach to prevent ill health, injury and disease.   

Occupational health and health and safety management go hand in hand and are often managed under the same service or department. A Health and Safety Officer will conduct health and safety and health risk assessments and implement the necessary controls to assist in reducing these risks as much as and wherever possible.   

Absolute Health Services accredited Health and Safety Officer or Specialist training 

Absolute Health Services is fully accredited with the Health and Welfare SETA to training and offer the specialized Health and Safety Officer course. This exciting and sought-after course can be presented on-site at our clients’ venues for 8 or more delegates, or at one of our public courses at our training centres situated in Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, or Cape Town.  

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