The main objectives of occupational health are to promote the health of employees, prevent potential occupational risks from destroying our health and prevent occupational diseases. In order to raise the health levels of employees we must firstly understand occupational hazards, monitor employee health, evaluate work health risks and adopt measures to prevent or reduce health risks. To achieve this, in addition to requiring the cooperation of employers and employees, we must also rely on doctors, nurses, occupational hygienists, epidemiologists, ergonomists, psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, engineers and toxicologists.
Anticipating and identifying health hazards
Consideration should be given to work processes, tools and equipment at the design stage so as to make every effort to avoid hazards and ensure the health of employees. For work already underway, we must identify and evaluate hazards. Methods used can include conducting workplace inspections, referring to occupational safety and health publications, interviewing with employees and consulting the MSDS.
Evaluating health risk
After identifying the health hazards, the next step is to evaluate the level of risk. Different evaluation methods should be used to analyse the degree of risk of different health hazards, for example, measuring air contaminant levels, measuring work frequencies and physical demands, analysing survey results and evaluating existing control measures, etc. Results should be compared with the relevant standards.
Developing control measures
a. Engineering control
Substitution of hazardous materials using non-toxic or low-toxicity materials to replace highly toxic materials. Isolation encloses the machinery or process emitting hazardous elements or encloses the employee to avoid or decrease the chances of exposing employees to the hazards. Change of work processes Automate work processes or adopt work methods with lower risks. Local exhaust ventilation Extract hazardous materials directly from their source to prevent them from contaminating the indoor air. Ventilation system Draw in large amounts of fresh air to dilute indoor air contaminants.
b. Administrative control
Physical examination Physical examinations should be carried out before an employee starts work and periodically thereafter so as to arrange suitable work for the employee and diagnose occupational illnesses. Training Provide adequate training to allow workers to understand proper working methods. Work allocation Decrease the time workers are exposed to hazards and provide adequate rest times
Sanitary facilities Provide adequate and convenient cleaning facilities and lavatories. Monitoring of risks Draw up and execute a risk-monitoring plan.
Health education Educate employees about a healthy work style and lifestyle. Immunization To prevent employees contracting and spreading serious diseases
c. Personal protection
When engineering or administrative control measures are not feasible or cannot reduce risks to an acceptable level, or when installing and carrying out maintenance of machinery, personal protective equipment should be used. Personal protective equipment must be properly selected, up to standard and suitable for the intended work environment and hazards present. Employers must also provide adequate training and supervision to ensure that employees are able to properly use and maintain the equipment. Other crucial elements are to have sufficient stocks for replacement and maintain relevant records. In Hong Kong the main legislation ensuring employee health is the "Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance" and the "Factory and Industrial Undertaking Ordinance". The laws stipulate that employers must assume "general duties" to ensure the health and safety of their employees at work, including the provision of instruction and training, non-hazardous work environment and machinery, etc. The legislation also requires employees to cooperate with employers to take care of their own and fellow employees' health and safety. Under these two laws there are a number of subsidiary regulations detailing the requirements for specified processes, equipment and environmental conditions. Other laws related to occupational health include the "Radiation Ordinance", "Pesticides Ordinance", etc.
d. Reporting of occupational diseases
According to the provisions of the "Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance", when a doctor discovers or suspects that an employee is or was suffering from one of the 51 kinds of occupational diseases listed in the ordinance, the doctor must make a written report to the Commissioner for Labour in the approved format. The 51 kinds of occupational diseases are listed on the following page. According to the provisions of the "Employee Compensation Ordinance", when an employee loses the ability to work or dies as a result of any of the occupational diseases stipulated in the ordinance, the employer must make a report to the Labour Department.