Occupational safety and health broadens purview

Three meetings in June (2015) reveal that occupational safety and health has broadened it’s purview. Diseases or disease risk factors that are substantially affected by our lifestyle, and increasingly recognized as affected by our by occupation, are now on everybody’s mind; 5 years ago they were often not part of the conversation.

At the 31st International Congress on Occupational Health (ICOH) in Seoul Korea (June 1-5) we learned that by 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts dramatic changes in the top 4 diseases across the globe, as shown in the picture (modified to place the speaker next to the screen). Diseases related to lifestyle and occupation will be 3 of the top 4 diseases in 2020 whereas in 1990 lower respiratory infection, diarrhea and perinatal diseases dominated.

Dr. Casey Chosewood (below) of NIOSH demonstrated how one major risk factor for chronic diseases, obesity, is associated with occupational groups in his talks at ICOH. The inescapable conclusion is that certain occupations are obesogenic, they lead to obesity.

asey Chosewood  at ICOHCasey repeated this slide at the June 23 NIOSH National Expert Colloquium meeting in Washington, DC (below) where over 20 labor leaders and the Directors of the NIOSH Centers of Excellence and some Affiliates in Total Worker Health (TWH) met, forcefully making the point that work organization changes are needed to prevent obesity in our workforce/our population; NIOSH posted information on the 2014 meeting.

We would add that programs that help people grapple with lifestyle issues at work and away from work are also sought after by workers in our studies. They know they have to take a role in solving their problems, as changes in work structure aren’t enough to reverse their problems – these important changes will have a greater benefit for new or young workers.

NIOSH Natl Expert Colloquium 2015

The third meeting was held by the University of Washington in Seattle (June 23-24) to address the future of occupational health, and it recognized that a broader view of worker health must be part of the education and the practice of occupational safety and health.

Day 2 was keynoted by Dr. David Michaels, Administrator of federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). He encouraged academics and practitioners to work more closely with state workers’ compensation organizations, including insurance companies. A specific suggestion was to improve safety and health in small businesses through the large businesses they supply – by addressing the supply chain at the top, an area of success for federal OSHA.

David Michaels at Seattle meeting

Importantly, speakers at each meeting re-affirmed safety as the foundation of occupational health. Our next blog will describe the University of Washington meeting in more detail as many new and in some cases ‘intentionally disruptive’ ideas were floated.