OP-ED

Occupational Health Hazards; A Silent Killer of the Nations’ developers 

By Aisha Naava

On a daily people wake up to go and make money, to live a better life at that particular time and in the future but many times these people become unhealthy or even die from problems that they get from their working environment. Unsafe and unhealthy working conditions often result from a combination of underlying causes, such as governance gaps, deficient legislative frameworks, insufficient knowledge and resources, unsustainable business practices, and the lack of a culture of prevention at national and workplace levels.

Yearly, an estimated 2.78 million workers die from occupational accidents and work-related diseases, this means 7,500 people die from unsafe and unhealthy working conditions every single day. Workplace-related deaths exceed the average annual deaths from road accidents (999,000), war (502,000), violence (563,000) and HIV/AIDS (312,000). Not only deaths, but also an additional 374 million workers suffer from non-fatal occupational accidents. 

Workers everywhere face chemical-toxic substances and chemical spills, biological-pathogens and vector-borne diseases, physical noise, vibration and extreme temperatures, psychosocial- work-related stress and workplace violence, poor ergonomics and heavy lifting, radiation hazards-ionizing and non-ionizing. However, people in developing countries bear more than 80 percent of the global burden of occupational disease and injury. Some diseases, such as lead poisoning, which have been largely eliminated in developed countries, remain a major problem in the rest of the world. In addition to this, despite the improvements in workplace technology, practices and exposures over the last decades, occupational hazards remain an important cause of ill health and mortality worldwide with the leading occupational cause of death being chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), followed by unintentional injuries and lung cancer (WHO).

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), occupational safety and health is the improvement of working conditions and working environments for workers to ensure their safety and health are maintained while working and provide compensation if a work-related injury occurs. Occupational health deals with all aspects of health and safety at the workplace with special emphasis on primary prevention of hazards.

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The health of the workers has several determinants, including risk factors at the workplace leading to cancers, accidents, musculoskeletal diseases, respiratory diseases, hearing loss, circulatory diseases, stress-related disorders, communicable diseases and others. 

The consequences of exposure to workplace hazards can vary depending on the nature of the hazard, and the duration and intensity of exposure. These hazards may lead to physical injuries, occupational diseases like respiratory problems and others, psychological stress and burnout, psychosocial; workplace violence and job dissatisfaction, reduced productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism, financial constraints due to medical bills and loss of an income-job, disability, job instability, staff turnover, increased workload on the unaffected staff, legal consequences; workplace injuries and compensation.

Employers should prioritize occupational health and safety, and implement measures to identify, assess, and control hazards in the workplace because proactive safety measures not only protect employees but also contribute to a positive work environment, high levels of service delivery, sustainable business practices and organizational success.

Prevention

  • Conduct regular risk assessments and evaluate work processes, equipment and workspaces to determine potential risks and prioritize areas of improvement.
  • Provide comprehensive training programs and ongoing education for employees on safety procedures, hazard identification, and the proper use of protective equipment to keep employees informed about new safety practices and regulatory requirements.
  • Establish safety committees with representation from various departments and levels within the organization and involve the employees in hazard identification, risk assessment, and the development of safety policies and procedures.
  • Provide and ensure the proper use of personal protective equipment such as gloves, goggles, helmets, and respirators among others.
  • Allocate resources and support initiatives that prioritize employee well-being and safety.
  • Establish clear and effective communication channels for disseminating safety information, including hazard alerts, emergency response plans, and changes in procedures.
  • Develop and regularly update emergency response plans, through conducting drills and simulations so that employees are always familiar with emergency procedures.
  • Encourage healthy lifestyle choices, provide access to wellness resources, and offer programs addressing stress management and work-life balance.
  • The organization should regularly review and refine its occupational health and safety practices as well as encourage feedback from employees and use lessons learnt to enhance safety measures. 
  • Schedule regular breaks to reduce burnout and risk of musculoskeletal disorders as well as rotating tasks to limit exposure to specific hazards and provide variety in job responsibilities.
  • Incorporate ergonomic principles into the design of workspaces, tools, and equipment to prevent musculoskeletal disorders and promote overall well-being. Ergonomics is the science of designing and arranging things so that people can interact with their environments more efficiently and safely. In the workplace, applying ergonomic principles can significantly contribute to the reduction of occupational health hazards by focusing on the design and arrangement of spaces, tools, equipment, and tasks to fit the capabilities and limitations of the human body

However much everyone has a respective role to play in addressing occupational health challenges, employers should assess and mitigate these hazards through proper safety measures, training programs, and implementation of occupational health and safety regulations. Regular monitoring and evaluation of workplace conditions are essential for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment.

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The author; Naava Aisha, is a Nursing officer working with Kawolo General Hospital.



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