Occupational Health and Safety, also commonly known as workplace health, is a comprehensive and integrated approach, which is concerned with the health and safety of the general population at their places of work. It addresses a broad range of health and safety issues such as those attributed to biological, chemical, mechanical, physical, and psychosocial hazards, through programs, policies and practices. In 2012, the Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that 4,628 workers were killed on the job - an average of 89 deaths per week. Despite these alarming statistics, the introduction of occupational safety and health has, so far, been proven successful. Research has shown that since 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced by more than 65 percent, and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 67 percent, while at the same time, the rate of employment has almost doubled.

Occupational Health and Safety Defined...

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) jointly define occupational health and safety as:
  • The maintenance and promotion of both workers’ health, as well as their working capacity
  • The improvement of the working environment and the job task so that it becomes conducive to safety and health
  • The development of work organizations and working cultures in a direction that supports workplace health and safety

The Six Steps

1. Develop an Occupational Health and Safety Policy/Program

This policy/program should reflect a guiding principle that your organization seeks to uphold. It will provide the foundation for all occupational health and safety decisions and actions. It is important that this policy/program shows commitment, ensures accountability, encourages co-operation, and is easily understood. Additionally, policies/programs should be regularly reviewed and updated in accordance with the needs of the organization.

2. Obtain Feedback

Feedback on your organization’s occupational health and safety policy/program can be obtained by involving both management and employees. It is important that you get the support and co-operation from your employees since the development of this occupational health and safety policy/program is for their benefit. Methods of obtaining valuable feedback or consultation include:
  • Establishing a workplace occupational health and safety committee
  • Hosting meetings and workshops
  • Conducting surveys and providing suggestion boxes

3. Set up a Training Strategy

Everyone in an organization has an occupational health and safety responsibility and, as such, requires training. Your organization's occupational health and safety training program should seek to develop skills in all members of the organization, which will enable them to effectively and efficiently carry out their health and safety responsibilities. Therefore, health and safety should be included in the following training areas:
  • Induction training
  • Supervisor and Management training
  • On-the-Job training
  • Specific Hazard training
  • Work Procedures and Skills training
  • Emergency Procedure training
  • First Aid training

4. Identify and Assess Workplace Hazards

A critical step toward achieving occupational health and safety in your organization is the identification and assessment of workplace hazards. Hazards are the primary cause of occupational health and safety problems. Sources of hazards may include the workplace environment, the use of chemicals and materials in the workplace, poor work design, inappropriate management systems and procedures, as well as human behaviour. The following procedures can be undertaken by your organization to identify hazards:
  • Safety Audits - A systematic and periodic inspection of the workplace to evaluate the effectiveness of your organization's health and safety system
  • Workplace Inspections - Regular inspections of the workplace carried out by managers, supervisors and safety committee members to determine by observation what hazards exist in the workplace
  • Accident/Incident Investigations - A set of procedures for investigating and reporting on accidents/incidents to identify the hazards that contributed to the accident/incident. For more information on conducting accident/incident investigations check out 7 Critical Steps You Must Take When Investigating and Reporting Accidents.
  • Reviewing Injury and Illness Records - These statistics can be analyzed to show the presence of hazards in the workplace
Once you have identified the hazards in your workplace, you can then assess their level of significance. The level of significance will determine the priority assigned to the hazard’s elimination or control. Some key factors to consider when determining the level of significance of a hazard are:
  • Exposure - The significance of the risk for injury or illness may be affected by the worker’s exposure level to the hazard
  • Severity - The extent of the injury or degree of harm which might be caused by the hazard
  • Individual Differences - Take into account an employee’s skills, experience, training and physical capabilities

5. Develop and Implement Risk Control Strategies

After the hazards have been identified and assessed, you will need to implement a strategy to eliminate or reduce the exposure to the risk associated with the hazard. The hierarchy of hazard control will help you to determine the best way to control the risk.

6. Review, Promote, Maintain and Improve Strategies

Finally, it is important to review, promote, maintain and constantly improve your organization’s occupational health and safety programs and procedures. Promoting and evaluating these programs is vital for the ongoing effectiveness of your organization’s occupational policy/program. Strategies for maintaining your organization's occupational safety and health program include:
  • Ensuring that occupational safety and health is integrated into all management procedures
  • Evaluating the success of control strategies
  • Communicating with employees
  • Evaluating and reviewing educational and training programs

The Importance of Occupational Health and Safety

While the workplace has become a much safer place over the past few decades as a result of the introduction of occupational health and safety, workplace injuries and illnesses still occur and will continue to occur in the future. However, by implementing an occupational health and safety program specific to your organization, you can avoid tragic and costly injuries and illness. It is the duty of all employers under their countries' respective Health and Safety Act, to take all practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees at work, as well as the safety of other people in their workplace. Good health and safety management practices have been proven to encourage higher staff retention and further, increase productivity and efficiency among employees. So, keep yourself and your employees safe by adopting these six steps to achieve occupational health and safety.