What Is Occupational Health and Safety?

Occupational health and safety hazards can hurt your employees and your business. Safeguard both with these strategies

Published Date: Aug 9, 2023

Occupational health and safety is one of the most important things to keep in mind when assessing the health and wellbeing of employees. This includes preventing job-related physical health concerns, such as repetitive stress and overexertion injuries, falls, and exposures, as well as mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Putting attention toward occupational health and safety hazards, first and foremost, protects your employees’ lives and livelihoods. From a business perspective, it can lead to better retention and attendance rates, improved productivity, reduced costs, and more. 

This article describes the many facets that define occupational health and safety, examples of occupational health hazards, how these concerns can impact your business, and strategies you can use to improve your work conditions.

Occupational Health Definition

The World Health Organization defines occupational health as a form of public health that promotes and maintains the physical, mental, and social wellness of workers.

Making this a reality means taking the practical steps to create a safe work environment, as well as fostering a work culture that values and prioritizes sustaining it. 

It’s easy to identify workplaces where there are obvious occupational health hazards: a warehouse floor, a hospital, a construction site, etc. The truth is, no industry is immune to these issues.

Less-obvious workplace hazards like prolonged sitting at a desk and poor ergonomic conditions can cause issues like back pain and weight gain, for example. And in some cases, problems can progress and lead to chronic conditions like musculoskeletal disorders and obesity.

Examples of Occupational Health Hazards

You’ve likely already implemented strategies to address some of the occupational health hazards present in your work environment. But considering how broad the definition of occupational health is, there may be some gaps to fill.

Here’s a sample of occupational health and safety hazards, with examples grouped according to OSHA-designated categories:

  • Safety hazards: Spills, tripping opportunities, improper wiring, confined spaces, machinery hazards, and such are all examples.

  • Physical hazards: These include extreme temperatures, constant loud noise, radio waves, ultraviolet rays, and other such exposures that can harm an employee simply because they are in their environment.

  • Ergonomic hazards: The position of a worker's body can cause stress and strain over time. This can stem from an improperly adjusted work station, repetitive moving or lifting, and poor posture.

  • Chemical hazards: These include harmful gas, liquid, or solid materials employees are exposed to in the workplace.

  • Biological hazards: These are most often found in laboratories or healthcare settings. Examples include body fluids, animal droppings, toxic dust, poisonous plants, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

  • Work organization hazards: A stressful, harmful work environment can strain workers both physically and mentally. High workloads, intense pace, a lack of flexibility, and poor social support are all examples of this type of occupational hazard.

Spotlight on Musculoskeletal (MSK) Issues

Poor posture, repetitive motion, heavy labor, and other situations workers find themselves in can cause MSK issues such as back pain, neck pain, muscle strain, arthritis, and more.

Employers are taking notice: According to a 2023 survey by the Business Group on Health, 76% of employers rank MSK conditions among their top three cost drivers.

And while 12 is the median number of days of work missed because of nonfatal injuries and illnesses, it’s 14 for absences due to MSK issues specifically.

How Improving Occupational Health Impacts Your Business

OSHA reports that being proactive about occupational health—that is, not just addressing concerns after workers are injured or sick—brings many direct and indirect benefits, including:

Fewer absences

Healthy employees means fewer sick days.

In a study published in the journal Work, the rate of absence of employees who participated in an occupational healthcare management program dropped from 9.26% to 7.93% in one year.

Increased productivity

If you feel better, you work with greater ease, fewer distractions, and more focus.

Desk workers who were given and used a sit-stand desk to combat the effects of prolonged sitting significantly increased their “vitality in work-related engagement” and self-related work performance over a four-week period, according to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Avoidance of costly interventions

By identifying the types of issues that are likely to occur in your workplace—such as neck pain from prolonged sitting or back pain from heavy lifting—you can take steps to prevent these problems from progressing or even happening in the first place.

This can help reduce the number of people who end up turning to costly interventions like surgery, hiking medical claims.

Hinge Health’s digital musculoskeletal (MSK) care program, which addresses pain management and prevention, saves employers $2,387 in medical claims per employee per year.

Improved staff morale and retention

According to the U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Survey, almost half of employees don’t feel their employers care about them. These individuals are also 72% less likely to feel valued at work and 54% less likely to be loyal to their employer.

Making occupational health a priority shows your employees that you take their health and wellbeing seriously. Showing investment in your employees also means you have a better chance of attracting talented workers and keeping them at your company for longer.

Reduction in workers’ compensation cases

The average cost for worker's compensation claims from 2019 to 2020 was $41,353. This includes cases related to issues and injuries that could have been prevented with the implementation of sufficient occupational health and safety measures.

Mitigation of liability

By focusing on occupational health now, you are addressing health risks that could otherwise lead to regulatory fines and lawsuits.

The Cost of a Muscle Strain

Occupational health-related costs can be substantial—and not just for serious injuries, like bone breaks. OSHA’s Safety Pays Individual Injury Estimator allows you to calculate the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses on profitability using your company’s profit margin, the average cost of a health event, and an indirect cost multiplier.

Using a muscle strain as an example, and a 3% profit margin, the tool estimates:

  • Direct costs of about $32,000/muscle strain (e.g., medical expenses, workers’ compensation)

  • Indirect costs of around $35,000/muscle strain (e.g, lost productivity related to work scheduling, training replacement workers, overtime costs)

5 Occupational Health Strategies

In the United States, employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards, which are based on industry.

In addition, you should consider other strategies on your own in order to keep your work environment safe, positive, and competitive with what other companies offer.

For example:

  1. Health screenings: Things like routine on-site vision checks, balance checks, and strength assessments can ensure that your employees are able to safely carry out their jobs. They can also help identify issues early on so they can be addressed before they progress.

  2. Injury prevention campaigns: Make employees aware of the types of injuries that are most common in your industry and how they can prevent these issues from occurring. For example, if you have workers exposed to high temperatures, you can run a heat illness prevention campaign.

  3. MSK care programs: MSK care programs can help employees manage pain and prevent future issues such as back pain, neck pain, muscle soreness, arthritis, and more.

  4. Mental health support: Workplace wellness programs can help identify employees who may be at risk for issues such as depression or anxiety, and connect them to resources and treatment.

  5. Vaccination campaigns: Offering on-site annual vaccination against infectious diseases such as the flu and COVID can give employees an easy way to reduce their chances of getting (and spreading) these illnesses.

If you are a small- or medium-size business, consider contacting OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program for free and confidential advice on identifying and addressing occupational health and safety hazards.

How Hinge Health can help you

Joint or muscle pain touches virtually every area of your business. Sufferers are less productive and more likely to be absent or prone to presenteeism. And with rates of new chronic pain cases soaring, already-high related healthcare costs will only continue to grow.

Hinge Health is a clinically complete MSK care approach that keeps members engaged. For everything from minor sprains to chronic pain, our care team uses advanced technology to manage member pain and remove barriers to recovery.

Studies demonstrate that our powerful, clinically validated digital MSK solution yields positive long-term outcomes and claims reductions.

There are many health issues you can’t have much of an impact on.

This isn’t one of them.

Let’s talk about how we can get to work for you.

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