Occupational Health, in its broadest sense, is a scientific, multi(and trans)disciplinary area, which aims at a healthy, safe and satisfactorily comfortable work environment and a healthy, active and productive worker, free from natural or professional diseases and able to and motivated to exercise their professional activity, with satisfaction and developing in a personal and professional way. Occupational Medicine, among others, is part of this scientific area and is dedicated to the medical prevention of occupational risks, health promotion and maintenance of work capacity.
By António de Sousa Uva *
Work can affect health, positively or negatively, and the prevention of occupational risks, especially occupational diseases and accidents at work, are its most valued components, although professional factors can influence health in many other ways.
The number and diversity of risk factors for health (and safety) potentially existing in a work environment are considerable, diversified and related to the activity and the conditions in which it is carried out. These factors are traditionally classified, according to their nature, into physical, chemical, (micro)biological, psychosocial and activity-related (ergonomic, for some authors) factors. All five of these risk factor categories are likely to cause adverse health effects.
Those who work must not lose their life to earn it and, consequently, it is imperative that work is valued as a central activity of human life free from professional risks or, at the very least, work environments in which its control is effective and in environments compatible with the specific (health) situations of the workers.
Throughout active life, it is known, for example, that physical capacity, measured through cardiorespiratory capacity, maximum voluntary strength or musculoskeletal capacity, declines with age, not to mention the decrease in auditory and visual capacities, for example. , more noticeable by all. This determines that the demands of work and the conditions in which the work is carried out are designed for the specific workers who make up the workforce and not for a stereotype of the “average worker” that is often used.
The current extension of working life therefore requires even greater investment in improving working conditions in terms of health (and safety). In fact, the failure (or insufficiency) of interventions in the promotion of health at work and in the prevention (medical and environmental) of occupational risks can also cause the occurrence of occupational diseases and accidents at work with the resulting damage to health and the need for its repair.
The establishment of permanent disabilities resulting from those damages resulting, for example, from irreversible sequelae must also determine the adaptation of work to the remaining capacities of workers. Work cannot, therefore, be considered immutable and must adapt to the specific workers who perform it, even in situations that may arise, with the need for readaptation, replacement or even reconversion. This requires organizing competent services and encouraging the creation of a culture (or at least a climate) of health (and safety) in companies (and other organizations) that serve these purposes.
The very frequent perspective of considering Occupational Medicine as an element of selection or control of absenteeism must be definitively abandoned, if only because this is not even legally permitted.
- Sousa-Uva, A (ed). Healthy and safe workers in healthy and safe workplaces, Lisbon: Petrica Editores, 2010.
- Sousa-Uva A, Serranheira F. Health, Illness and Work: earning or losing a living working. Lisbon: Logbook, 2nd, 2019.
* Doctor and teacher. Article originally published on the website Healthnews.pt.
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