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Occupational health and safety is the field of public health that focuses on safety and welfare within the workplace.

Experts in this field use illness and injury trends in the workplace to design and implement strategies and regulations intended to reduce hazards that could lead to further injuries or illnesses.

Today, many of these regulations are governmental, while others are policies implemented by employers or their insurance companies. Most employers worldwide have legal and regulatory responsibilities to establish and maintain a safe and healthy environment for workers.

In most cases, these regulations do not apply (or are applied differently) to people who are self-employed or to farm workers who are immediate family members of the farm owner.

In common-law jurisdictions, employers have the duty of care to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of employees on the job. In addition, statutory law may impose other general and specific duties, and most jurisdictions have empowered governmental agencies or departments to regulate worker safety issues, although this will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Government regulation of occupational health and safety issues is a somewhat new development. In most jurisdictions, such regulations had their origins in labor movements.

Today, most employers would likely enact safe workplace policies with or without government enforcement since a safe workplace can help to reduce injuries, work-related illnesses, and fatalities, which helps to boost employee morale and productivity. Fewer workplace injuries lead to reduced insurance premiums, costs related to equipment repairs, and a better company reputation.

Common workplace hazards and safety issues include human, health, and environmental factors.

Human factors include the environmental, organizational, and job factors that affect workers. They include job-related tasks, workloads, daily work patterns, workplace design, work teams and leadership, communication with others in the workplace, available resources, and incidents of violence. Individual characteristics, such as capabilities, competence, attitudes, and risk tolerances, also come into play.

Workplace health hazards might include chemical hazards like dust, gases, vapors, fluids, and solids that could result in burns, irritation, and respiratory problems. Inadequate housekeeping in the workplace can result in slips and falls from misplaced equipment, tangled wires, unplugged machines, and broken items. Ergonomic risks from heavy lifting without proper training or from repetitive motion can also lead to injuries. Other common hazards include biological hazards. posed by liquid or toxic wastes.

Construction, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, aviation, and health industries pose the greatest risk of health hazards.

The most common environmental factors affecting workplace safety are weather conditions, particularly for construction workers, electrical workers, and oil and gas excavators. Noise issues can result in permanent hearing loss.

Safe workplaces usually begin with the active promotion of safety and health programs by employers and company leaders. They might begin with a job safety analysis designed to identify workplace areas or activities that need improvement to promote safety. Often, employees are involved, particularly in identifying potential hazards.

As noted earlier, federal, state, and local governments have had a hand in improving workplace safety conditions.

In the United States, workplace safety issues became apparent in the Northern part of the United States following the Civil War. During an industrial boom, inexperienced workers often staffed dirty, poorly ventilated factories operating dangerous machinery.

Massachusetts was the first state to require factory inspections designed to ensure that workplaces had appropriate safety features, including fire exits. Before long, several other states followed suit.

However, safety regulations differed widely from state to state, and some of the regulations were confusing and contradictory. Additionally, these safety regulations weren't always enforced, and more than half of the states had no workplace safety regulations.

Seeking fewer regulations and lower costs, many businesses migrated from states with high regulations to those that were unregulated or where the regulations were not so stringent.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law. This created the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to oversee the new law's implementation. The equivalent to OSHA in the United Kingdom is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), while the comparable agency in Canada is the Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).



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