Neglected Occupational Health

Dr. Osei Boaitey

 Institute of Qualitative Methodology

 University of Alberta, Canada

“A buried talent is never a buried treasure; talents become treasures only through use”(Rupert). Although this quotation is true, using our talents to work should however not be the channel through which we acquire preventable ailments and deformities through our various occupations. If our health and safety will be compromised because of our occupation, then it will be worth burying our talent.

To save so much money in a lifetime, doing a particular job just to be spent on treating and managing diseases and ailments is a very unfortunate phenomenon. To be rendered disabled, disfigured, deformed or physically challenged as a result of ones job should not happen to anyone. By working to improve the economy of a nation, one should not pay for this with deformity and disability.

Hundreds of people suffer from all kinds of diseases and deformities day in and day out in Ghana. People are always living with the shock and pain of many kinds of perpetual deformity and handicap as a result of their occupation. There is a neglect of Occupational Health and Safety Practice in many work settings in Ghana. Many employers tend to take advantage of workers who are desperate for few jobs available by not caring for their health and safety at work.

As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) “occupational health deals with all aspects of health and safety in the workplace and has a strong focus on primary prevention of hazards.” Health has been defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Occupational health is a multidisciplinary field of healthcare concerned with enabling an individual to undertake their occupation, in the way that causes least harm to their health. It contrasts, for example, with the promotion of health and safety at work, which is concerned with preventing harm from any incidental hazards, arising in the workplace.

The main focus in occupational health is on three dimensions. The first we can consider is  the maintenance and promotion of workers’ health and working capacity. There is also an aspect of the improvement of working environment and work to become conducive to safety and health. Occupational health also deals with the development of work organizations and working cultures in a direction which supports health and safety at work and in doing so also promotes a positive social climate and smooth operation and may enhance productivity of the undertakings.

Specific occupational safety and health risk factors vary depending on the specific sector and industry. Construction workers might be particularly at risk of falls, for instance, whereas fishermen might be particularly at risk of drowning.  According to credible agencies of the WHO,  fishingaviationlumbermetalworkingagriculturemining and transportation industries are among some of the most dangerous for workers. Similarly psycho-social risks such as workplace violence are more pronounced for certain occupational groups such as health care employees, police, correctional officers and teachers.

Construction is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, incurring more occupational fatalities than any other sector in both the United States and in the European UnionFalls are one of the most common causes of fatal and non-fatal injuries among construction workers. Proper safety equipment such as harnesses and guardrails as well as procedures such as securing ladders and inspecting scaffolding can curtail the risk of occupational injuries in the construction industry.

Agriculture workers are often at risk of work-related injuries, lung disease, noise-induced hearing loss, skin disease, as well as certain cancers related to chemical use or prolonged sun exposure. On industrialized farms, injuries frequently involve the use of agricultural machinery. The most common cause of fatal agricultural injuries in the United States is tractor rollovers, which can be prevented by the use of roll over protection structures which limit the risk of injury in case a tractor rolls over.

Pesticides and other chemicals used in farming can also be hazardous to worker health, and workers exposed to pesticides may experience illnesses or birth defects. As an industry in which families, including children, commonly work alongside their families, agriculture is a common source of occupational injuries and illnesses among younger workers. Common causes of fatal injuries among young farm worker include drowning, machinery and motor vehicle-related accidents.

According to data from the 2010 NHIS-OHS, workers employed in mining as well as oil and gas extraction industries had high prevalence rates of exposure to potentially harmful work organization characteristics and hazardous chemicals. Many of these workers worked long hours: 50% worked more than 48 hours a week and 25% worked more than 60 hours a week in 2010. Additionally, 42% worked non-standard shifts (not a regular day shift). These workers also had high prevalence of exposure to physical or chemical hazards.

In 2010, 39% had frequent skin contact with chemicals. Among nonsmoking workers, 28% of those in mining and oil and gas extraction industries had frequent exposure to secondhand smoke at work. About two-thirds were frequently exposed to vapors, gas, dust, or fumes at work which may be similar to dangerous hazards some health care workers come across.

Health care workers are exposed to many hazards that can adversely affect their health and well-being. Long hours, changing shifts, physically demanding tasks, violence, and exposures to infectious diseases and harmful chemicals are examples of hazards that put these workers at risk for illness and injury.

As the number of service sector jobs has risen in developed countries, more and more jobs have become sedentary, presenting a different array of health problems than those associated with manufacturing and the primary sector. Contemporary problems such as the growing rate of obesity and issues relating to occupational stressworkplace bullying, and overwork in many countries have further complicated the interaction between work and health.

According to data from the 2010 NHIS-OHS, hazardous physical or chemical exposures in the service sector were lower than national averages. On the other hand, potentially harmful work organization characteristics and psycho-social workplace exposures were relatively common in this sector. Among all workers in the service industry, 30% experienced job insecurity in 2010, 27% worked non-standard shifts (not a regular day shift), 21% had non-standard work arrangements (were not regular permanent employees).

It has always been my dream of an Act of Parliament which addresses Occupational Health and Safety Practice in Ghana. An Act which will protect both employees and employers as well as properties. The nation has different agencies under different jurisdictions which monitor different industries for workplace and employee safety, however, there is no national body, policy nor process that govern Occupational Safety and Health management in Ghana. Although some of the aspects of the Health and Safety Act of the United Kingdom have been adopted in Ghana as mere recommendations, we need to design one tailored for our environmental and cultural setting.


World Health Organization

Wikipedia (Online Encyclopedia)

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1 Comment

  1. Indeed, there’s a need for us to take occupational health seriously in this country. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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