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OSH and Work System Design

Health and Safety. Occupational safety and health (OSH) in general refers to all aspects of health and safety in the workplace. OSH often has a strong focus on primary prevention of hazards, as introduced by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Details of the scope of OSH is documented in national OSH legislation and may vary across countries.

Health is described, according to WHO principles, as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Promoting workers health is prevention of disease and combating risks. Measures are conductive, when optimising physical and mental activity at work through work system design, promoting more healthy diets, and protecting cognitive and emotional well-being at work. Health risk assessment should take severity of the effects as well as health effects into account. Relevant risks are those that can basically be identified, significant risks are those that actually lead to injury or disease.

Safety has variations in meaning occurring across contexts. A traditional view describes safety as freedom from unacceptable risk, i.e. referring to a negative connotation of types and frequencies of accidents, incidents and damage. Views with a positive connotation strive for safety as an ability to succeed, establish, maintain and improve safety in terms of successes under varying conditions. The latter perspective changes understanding, analysis, design and evaluation of the safety performance of organisations as well as values efforts to establish safety controls and design requirements in human factors and ergonomics (HF&E) to improve OSH at work.

Hierarchy of controls. Measures for health and safety of employees at work often include prevention of occupational accidents, occupational diseases and work-related health risks as well as working conditions according to HF&E design requirements. Despite differences in legal OSH regulations across countries, the hierarchy of controls remains similar across countries and application contexts. It guides selection of effective measures for prevention and risk reduction in work systems design, following levels according a 'STOP!' principle. OSH interventions along levels lower in hierarchy are assumed to be less effective, albeit sometimes required.

References:

  • Lehto, M.R. & Cook, B.T. (2012). Occupational Health and Safety Management. In: G. Salvendy, G. (ed.), Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics (701-733). Hoboken: Wiley.
  • EN ISO 12100. Safety of machinery – General principles for design – Risk assessment and risk reduction.
  • Hollnagel, E. (2014). Safety-I and Safety-II: The Past and Future of Safety Management. Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Radandt, S., Rantanen, J. & Renn, O. (2008). Governance of Occupational Safety and Health and Environmental Risks. In: H.-J. Bischoff (ed.), Risks in Modern Society (127-258). Heidelberg: Springer Science+Business Media.
  • WHO (2020). Basic documents (49th ed., including amendments adopted up to 31/03/2019). Geneva: World Health Organisation (WHO).