An occupational health policy is a plan of action primarily concerned with protecting the health, safety, and welfare of persons at work. The policies typically are designed to protect workers from hazardous work environments by ensuring clean work areas, the use of protective equipment and assuring employees are properly trained. The policies may also include provisions to protect customers and nearby communities. Often, governmental agencies, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in the United States, oversee and enforce the regulations throughout the world.
The standards set forth by an occupational health policy require employers to provide a safe environment for their employees. This usually includes, but is not limited to, protection from hazardous materials, excessive noise, unsanitary conditions, and mechanical dangers. Standards vary depending on local or regional regulations set by a ruling government. Agencies typically enforce their rules with inspections.
Occupational health policies normally require employers to maintain certain standards in their workplace. The usual requirements revolve around maintaining a generally safe environment, protective equipment when necessary, and training employees in the proper use of handling equipment. Employees are also expected to maintain a safe environment. Violations are normally punished by fines that increase due to the risk the incursion poses to the workers. In extreme cases, criminal charges may be filed.
The introduction of an occupational health policy usually leads to controversy. Business owners and employers fear the cost of complying with the regulations outweighs the benefits of a safer work environment. Studies have shown that employers generally overestimate the cost of such improvements. Others criticize the agencies for their ineffectiveness. Calls for stiffer fines and the criminalization of certain violations are often the most common complaints. Conversely, studies have shown that companies following the policies benefit from lower labor costs and less workman compensation complaints.
Prior to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 in the United States, American workers had little protection in the workplace. For the employer, creating a safer environment was often more expensive than replacing an injured or dead employee. Advances in technology posed even greater threats. Two years before the bill’s passage, 14,000 workers died doing their jobs and another two million suffered injuries. After a long, heated debate in the US Congress, the bill went into effect April 28, 1971.
Most industrialized countries have developed an occupational health policy that protects the safety of their employees. The European Union Occupational Safety and Health Administration (EU-OSHA) formed in 1996 out of Bilbao, Spain. The Korean safety organization, known as KOSHA, went into effect in 1986. Industrialization usually leads to more dangerous conditions for workers and measures to protect them become significant.