Occupational illness is highly preventable. So are workplace injuries. The Occupational Health Clinical Center has a strong public health mission.
What this means is that we understand that the losses of occupational disease are not only individual, but may affect a worker’s family, co-workers, and an employer.
Individuals may suffer
- Pain; reduced function; erosion of health; or loss of income, identity, or even life
Co-workers may suffer
- Similar symptoms, or other adverse effects
- Delayed impact (depending upon degree, duration or intensity of exposure)
- Elevated risk of health impairment
- No health impact at all
- Stress regarding fears that they might be affected or increased work load due to absenteeism of injured or ill worker
Families may suffer
- Economic distress, shift in responsibilities, change in roles, sadness or stress as they witness struggles of a loved one
Employers may suffer
- loss of productivity, possible training or replacement costs, injury to reputation as a responsible employer
What You Can Do: Tips for Workers
- Be proactive: a worker is some body! Your health and safety have short- and long-term consequences. If there is something in the workplace that is harming your health, it may be putting other workers at risk as well.
- Form a workplace health and safety committee, or become active in one that already exists. In unionized workplaces, there is sometimes a joint labor/ management committee. Even when there is no formal committee, you can informally talk to your coworkers outside of work hours, especially when workers are noticing some problems.
- Report health and safety hazards to your supervisor immediately; report your own illness or injury immediately, and file a C-3 Workers Comp form to document your illness or injury. Even if later you choose not to file a Workers Compensation claim, you will have created a record of the injury. This will help preserves your rights and possible benefits.
- Don't be fooled or fatalistic if your job is dangerous, or you work with hazardous materials. Know what you are working with! Some cancers, for example, take 10 to 30 years or more to emerge. A broken safety harness could cause a fatal fall. Precautions now could save your life.
- Talk to witnesses, if possible, or at least write down who may have seen what caused the injury or illness. Other workers might be quite willing to tell you if they have been hurt by the same conditions.
- Be aware that the clock is ticking on reporting for Workers’ Comp! Any injury or disease that is reported after 30 days will not be looked upon favorably, you may lose your rights to some important benefits.
- Don't be troubled if you're not sure exactly when your work-related illness began. Some illnesses begin with subtle symptoms, but increase over time. Be sure to let your primary care doctor know if you think your illness might be work-related.
What An Employer Can Do
- Be proactive and interactive: identify possible safety hazards before anyone in your workforce is harmed. Safety consciousness starts at the top, but needs to be the responsibility of everyone in the workplace.
- Send a positive message about how each employee is valued, and follow up the message with action that creates a culture of safety consciousness. Make sure that workers know they have a duty to report health and safety problems. Involve those at the front lines in suggesting remedies.
- Learn from accidents or exposures: analyze what went wrong.
- Become familiar with the hierarchy of prevention controls: elimination, substitution, engineering, administrative, work practices, and personal protective equipment.
- Use the resources of the occupational health clinic in your region: if you are noticing clusters of health problems, invite an industrial hygienist into your plant or workplace to make some recommendations.
- Value and implement ergonomic suggestions: Your employees are happier and more productive if their bodies don’t ache. Sometimes, relatively minor changes at a work station can make a big difference. Since workers come in all sizes, don’t assume that one solution will work for everyone.
What the Occupational Health Clinical Center Can Do
- Apply the skills of a board-certified occupational medicine doctor (and an interdisciplinary team) to a patient’s medical problem.
- After a thorough occupational history and physical exam, provide impartial patient-focused diagnosis.
- Assist in assessing how and when a worker can safely return to work.
- Offer employers recommendations about preventing or reducing workplace illness or injury.
- Offer employers advice or suggestions regarding work station or overall workplace safety after a walk-through of the work environment by a certified industrial hygienist.