What is Occupational Health?
Occupational health is concerned with the detection and management of workplace hazards that have the potential to harm the well-being of professionals in a range of industries. These dangers might be physical, chemical, or psychological, frequently varying over time as industrial business practices evolve. While much of the debate about occupational health centres on occupations with a high level of personal risk is equally concerned about general working conditions in less fundamentally dangerous workplaces.
This subfield’s principal purpose is to promote health and safety practices that safeguard modern workers from workplace risks, necessitating extensive research and regulatory action. When new information becomes available, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) frequently updates its standards for handling volatile chemical agents and solvents. The government also establishes regulations for companies that process heavy metals, labour at high altitudes, use dangerous machinery, and much more.
What is Environmental Health?
In contrast to occupational health, which focuses on job dangers, environmental health attempts to prevent human injuries and illnesses on a far larger scale. Professionals in this discipline identify and assess hazardous chemicals that may influence public health, such as industrial pollutants and biological diseases. Experts meticulously examine the quality of air, soil, water, and food to identify current and future dangers that, if unchecked, could lead to widespread health concerns. Once recognized, public health professionals take decisive action by focusing on the interrelationships between individuals and their environment through public awareness campaigns and policy proposals.
This field of study is frequently community-focused, as the policies and programs it develops aim to enhance the living conditions of every citizen by addressing region-specific health threats. Organizations like the National Environmental Health Association advocate for long-term solutions to some of the most complex exposure dangers, frequently requiring protective intervention. Many challenges are too enormous to be solved through charitable initiatives, so government agencies play an essential role in this process. Environmental health programs are founded on rigorous research and evidence-based communication models, underlining the need for science-loving public health practitioners.
Where do the fields intersect?
Experts in occupational and environmental health are unanimous in their commitment to protecting human societies from natural and artificial risks. Both subfields aim to improve people’s lives worldwide through scientific study, public outreach, and regulatory action, even if it involves going up against entrenched institutions and economic systems. Some of the most pressing health threats we face today can be traced back to unsustainable practices in the past, such as the reckless extraction of natural resources and the climate impact of unchecked industrial manufacturing and urbanization, while others, such as disease and natural disasters, are an inherent part of the human condition. Public health specialists from many subfields work to reduce these risks via diligent observation, investigation, and communication, with the help of government policies and regulations.
The significant connection between the workplace and the rest of the world is that the cause of the hazard is frequently the same, whether it is agricultural or industrial activities. A shared technique for controlling health danger may be beneficial in both environments. This is true for the selection of chemical technologies for production. If a less harmful chemical can give an acceptable result or product, using it can minimize or even eliminate health risks. One example is the usage of safer water-based paints instead of harmful organic solvent-based paints. Another example is using non-chemical pest management methods whenever possible.
fundamental instruments of ecological science
It is now widely acknowledged that the scientific understanding and training needed to evaluate and control environmental health hazards are the same skills and information required to handle occupational health hazards. The fundamental instruments of ecological science include toxicology, epidemiology, occupational hygiene, ergonomics, and safety engineering. Control alternatives are evaluated, exposure is controlled, the risk is communicated to the public, and an ongoing exposure and risk monitoring plan is established. Thus, common approaches link occupational and environmental health, particularly in health assessment and exposure control.
Identifying environmental health hazard
Identifying environmental health hazards has frequently resulted from observations of lousy health outcomes among employees; without a doubt, the impact of industrial exposures is best understood in the workplace. Documentation of health impacts is typically obtained from one of three sources: animal or other laboratory trials, unintentional high-level exposures, or epidemiological studies that usually follow such vulnerabilities. To conduct an epidemiological study, you must be able to characterize both the exposed population and the nature and level of exposure and determine the negative health consequence. The nature and level of exposure to various cohort members are generally more clear-cut in a workplace population than in a community, and the outcomes of high levels of exposure are almost always easier to delineate than subtler changes attributable to low-level exposure.
Due to adverse health outcomes being more visible in workers, data on the occupational health effects of many toxic exposures (including heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and nickel, as well as well-known carcinogens such as asbestos) has been used to calculate the health risk to the general public. For example, in the case of cadmium, allegations of osteomalacia with multiple fractures among workers in a French factory producing alkaline batteries began to emerge as early as 1942. Cadmium intoxication was considered purely an occupational condition in the 1950s and 1960s.
However, the knowledge gained at work aided in the recognition that the osteomalacia and kidney disease occurring in Japan at the time, known as “Itai-itai” disease, was indeed caused by contamination of rice from irrigation of soil with cadmium-contaminated water from industrial sources. As a result, occupational epidemiology has made a significant addition to our understanding of the impacts of environmental exposure, providing another reason to integrate the two studies.
Points to remember
In conclusion, occupational and environmental health are inextricably linked:
1. The source of the health risk is frequently the same.
2. Standard procedures, especially in health assessment and exposure control.
3. The contribution of occupational epidemiology to our understanding of the impacts of environmental exposure.
4. The consequences of occupational disease on home and community well-being, as well as the effect of environmental pathology on worker productivity.
5. The scientific requirement to incorporate total exposures when determining dose-response correlations.
6. The efficiency obtained in human resource development and utilization as a result of such a relationship.
7. Enhancements in exposure control judgments result from a broader perspective.
The Bottom Line
Development, particularly industrialization, has provided enormous positive contributions to health, including increased personal and social wealth and significantly enhanced health and education services, transportation, and communication. Unquestionably, people are living longer and healthier lives than they did centuries or even decades ago. However, industrialization has had negative health repercussions not only for workers but also for the entire population. These impacts have been induced directly by exposure to safety dangers and hazardous chemicals or indirectly through local and worldwide environmental deterioration.
Regardless of the benefits of combining occupational and environmental health, each has a distinct perspective that should be noticed. Occupational health must continue to prioritize worker health, whereas environmental health must prioritize the general public’s health. Having a good understanding of the other boosts the legitimacy, knowledge base, and effectiveness of the whole attempt, even though it is preferable for professionals to function solely in one of these domains.
Also read: What Is The Need For Environmental Education?