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Occupational health 

Occupational health
Chapter:
Occupational health
Author(s):

David Koh

and Tar-Ching Aw

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199661756.003.0136
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date: 23 September 2019

Occupational health is the “promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well being of workers in all occupations”. Work-related ill-health and injuries cause considerable mortality and morbidity to workers worldwide, and are a major cause of disability, lost productivity and sickness absence. In the occupational setting, workers may suffer from occupational diseases (those directly caused by workplace hazards); ‘work-related diseases’ (those that are multi-factorial in origin with occupational exposures contributing to part of the etiology); and non-occupational diseases that affect the general population. Primary, secondary and tertiary preventive measures can be used to reduce the burden of disease at the workplace. Prevention of occupational ill-health requires an understanding of the work processes, the range and extent of exposures to hazards, and the steps that may be available to reduce exposure. It also requires recognition of vulnerable occupational groups such as workers in developing nations, migrant workers, child labour, women workers and impaired workers. The standard hierarchy of control strategies for reducing exposure to workplace hazards includes elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering measures, administrative procedures, and personal protective equipment. The workplace can be a suitable venue for health promotion activities although this should not be at the expense of elimination and control of exposure to occupational hazards. As occupational health practice has evolved to consideration of health issues beyond the ‘factory gate’, the discipline now has much in common with environmental health and encompasses the philosophy and principles of good public health practice.

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