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What is Occupational Health Policy?

By Brian Marchetti
Updated: May 23, 2024

An occupational health policy is a plan of action primarily concerned with protecting the health, safety, and welfare of persons at work. The policies typically are designed to protect workers from hazardous work environments by ensuring clean work areas, the use of protective equipment and assuring employees are properly trained. The policies may also include provisions to protect customers and nearby communities. Often, governmental agencies, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in the United States, oversee and enforce the regulations throughout the world.

The standards set forth by an occupational health policy require employers to provide a safe environment for their employees. This usually includes, but is not limited to, protection from hazardous materials, excessive noise, unsanitary conditions, and mechanical dangers. Standards vary depending on local or regional regulations set by a ruling government. Agencies typically enforce their rules with inspections.

Occupational health policies normally require employers to maintain certain standards in their workplace. The usual requirements revolve around maintaining a generally safe environment, protective equipment when necessary, and training employees in the proper use of handling equipment. Employees are also expected to maintain a safe environment. Violations are normally punished by fines that increase due to the risk the incursion poses to the workers. In extreme cases, criminal charges may be filed.

The introduction of an occupational health policy usually leads to controversy. Business owners and employers fear the cost of complying with the regulations outweighs the benefits of a safer work environment. Studies have shown that employers generally overestimate the cost of such improvements. Others criticize the agencies for their ineffectiveness. Calls for stiffer fines and the criminalization of certain violations are often the most common complaints. Conversely, studies have shown that companies following the policies benefit from lower labor costs and less workman compensation complaints.

Prior to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 in the United States, American workers had little protection in the workplace. For the employer, creating a safer environment was often more expensive than replacing an injured or dead employee. Advances in technology posed even greater threats. Two years before the bill’s passage, 14,000 workers died doing their jobs and another two million suffered injuries. After a long, heated debate in the US Congress, the bill went into effect April 28, 1971.

Most industrialized countries have developed an occupational health policy that protects the safety of their employees. The European Union Occupational Safety and Health Administration (EU-OSHA) formed in 1996 out of Bilbao, Spain. The Korean safety organization, known as KOSHA, went into effect in 1986. Industrialization usually leads to more dangerous conditions for workers and measures to protect them become significant.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Jan 24, 2014

@fBoyle-- I don't know if US was the first country but I think that occupational safety and health is a bigger issue in industrialized countries in general due to heavy use of machinery and chemicals. So even if US was not the first, I'm sure it was one of the first.

A few decades before the Occupational Safety and Health Act, labor unions were established and started to gain prominence. Union leaders played an important role in the process leading to the Act. Like the article said, workplace accident rates also skyrocketed around the same time. So it became apparent to policymakers that this was an issue they had to deal with.

There were a few other health and safety policy bills introduced several years before the Act but none of them made it to Congress.

By fBoyle — On Jan 24, 2014

Is US the first industrialized country to have passed an occupational safety and health policy? Did the act pass with a large margin?

By literally45 — On Jan 23, 2014

As someone who was injured on the job, I know that occupational health and safety policies extremely important. Especially workers who have to deal with hazardous materials and machines, need to be safe at work. Injuries are not entirely preventable, it may also happen due to a worker's fault. But it should not happen because the worker was not trained properly or given the proper gear and equipment to protect himself.

I don't think companies should think about the cost of safety regulation and adjustments. If workers sue their employers for injuries and win, companies will lose much more money.

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