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Occupational Safety and Health

Occupational Safety and Health

Goal

Promote the health and safety of people at work through prevention and early intervention.

Overview

The intent behind the Occupational Safety and Health topic area is to prevent diseases, injuries, and deaths that are due to working conditions. Work-related illnesses and injuries include any illness or injury incurred by an employee engaged in work-related activities while on or off the worksite.

Workplace settings vary widely in size, sector, design, location, work processes, workplace culture, and resources. In addition, workers themselves are different in terms of age, gender, training, education, cultural background, health practices, and access to preventive health care. This translates to great diversity in the safety and health risks for each industry sector and the need for tailored interventions.

Occupational safety and related Healthy People 2020 objectives are primarily addressed through the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA). NORA was established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its partners to stimulate research and improve workplace practices. Now in its second decade (2006–2016), NORA focuses on occupational safety and health in 10 sectors:

Why Is Occupational Safety and Health Important?

The U.S. civilian workforce employed approximately 140 million people in 2009.1 These workers spend a quarter of their lifetime, and up to half of their waking lives, at work or commuting. Despite improvements in occupational safety and health over the last several decades, workers continue to suffer work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses.2 The workplace, therefore, provides a unique forum for public health action.

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Understanding Occupational Safety and Health

Work is one of the most important determinants of a person’s health. However, addressing occupational safety and health poses numerous challenges.

  • The workforce, like the U.S. population at large, is becoming increasingly diverse. These demographic changes result in new safety and health issues. For example, some workers—such as racial and ethnic minorities, recent immigrants, younger and older workers, workers with genetic susceptibility, and workers with disabilities—are more likely to have increased risks of work-related diseases and injuries.
  • Workplaces are rapidly evolving as jobs in the current economy continue to shift from manufacturing to services.
  • Major changes are also occurring in the way work is organized. Longer hours, compressed work weeks, shift work, reduced job security, and part-time and temporary work are realities of the modern workplace and are increasingly affecting the health and lives of workers.
  • Finally, the new chemicals, materials, processes, and equipment that are being developed at an ever-accelerating pace pose emerging risks to occupational health.

Despite these challenges, the Nation is poised to make significant improvements over the coming decade in the quality of life for all working people. Occupational safety and health research has led to many changes in workplaces and work processes that prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths in workers. Ongoing research seeks to identify new and better ways to improve the health and safety of workers and to identify and address emerging hazards. In addition, scientists and partners are working together to translate and transfer research findings, technologies, and information into highly effective interventions and products that can be readily integrated into the workplace, resulting in more immediate improvements in the lives of workers.

Other new approaches to occupational safety and health include eliminating workplace hazards that result from design flaws and integrating the protection of the worker in the workplace with the promotion of a healthy lifestyle at home.

Emerging Issues in Occupational Safety and Health

Although improvements in occupational safety and health surveillance are ongoing, there are several emerging areas in which national data systems are not yet available or merit further research. For example, there are recognized data gaps in understanding the safety and health effects of exposure to nanoparticles—the ultrafine, manipulated particles used in many industries. Nanoparticles have numerous applications to areas ranging from medicine to manufacturing. Nanotechnology is anticipated to increase to a trillion-dollar industry employing millions of workers worldwide within the next decade.3 NIOSH and its partners are conducting research to better understand the health effects of nanotechnology, establish an evidence base on risks and controls, and develop appropriate guidance.

References

1US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population, 1940 to date [Internet]. Washington: Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2010 [cited 2010 March 31]. Available from: http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat01.pdf [PDF - 26 KB]

2US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Occupational injuries and deaths among younger workers—United States, 1998–2007. MMWR. 2010 Apr 23;59(15):449-55.

3Roco MC; National Science and Technology Council (US), Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology Subcommittee. Nanoscale science and engineering: Unifying and transforming tools. AIChE J. 2004 May;50(5):890-7.

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