Workplace health and safety–also referred to as occupational health and safety–refers to the right of every employee, regardless of industry, to carry out his daily work in a safe environment. There are various laws and legislations that dictate what employers must do to facilitate this, to minimize accidents, injuries and fatalities.
Since the middle of the 20th century, the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization have shared the definition of health and safety in the workplace. Since this was agreed in 1950, there has been one revision–45 years later, in 1995.
A paraphrase of this definition reads: “Occupational health should aim at: the promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers; the prevention amongst workers of departures from health caused by their working conditions; the placing and maintenance of the worker in an occupational environment adapted to his…capabilities.”
In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was passed to prevent injury and damage to workers as a result of their occupational surroundings. Workers are entitled to conditions of work that do not pose any significant hazards or risk to their health, and the OSHA covers workers from the private sector, federal government workers and state and local government workers.
In the UK, the Health and Safety at Work Act passed in 1974 covers the same points, detailing the responsibilities of employees and employers to ensure that the working environment is a safe one.
There are a number of reasons why legislation needs to be passed and a definition agreed when considering health and safety in the workplace.
It is a basic moral human right to be safe in the workplace, and not at risk of injury or death. This is also true of those associated with the industry, in that they too should not be put at risk.
Poor health and safety performance can also be very costly to the relevant company, in that they can incur legal fees, compensation damages, lost production and decreased morale.
Hazards at work can arise in a number of forms. For those in manufacturing industries, or industries involving heavy machinery, risks of injury and death will come in the forms such as impact collisions, entanglement and crushing.
Hazards also cover risks of exposure to chemicals, heavy metals, fumes and–in some industries–disease and illness as a result of bacteria or viruses. For those in office work, injuries can arise from improper lifting, electrocution or musculoskeletal conditions as the result of a poorly designed workstation.
Risks can also be psychological as well as physiological, with stress and bullying causing much distress and health issues.
Each employee within a company should have an individual risk assessment carried out upon his commencement with the business. This will identify risks and hazards specific to his role and environment, and train the individual on how to avoid potential injuries or accidents.
Workstations for those in an office environment should be ergonomically designed, to reduce injury. Each business should have a designated health and safety representative, whose responsibility is to maintain a safe environment in the workplace and train others on how to avoid accidents.