Protection of Workers’ Health

Primary health care centers can deliver some essential interventions to protect workers ‘health, especially counseling to improve working conditions, detection of occupational diseases, and workers’ health surveillance, although in the majority of countries the focus is still on medical treatment rather than prevention.

What determines the health of workers?

Economically active people spend about a third of their time in the workplace. Employment and working conditions have considerable effects on health equity. Good working conditions can provide protection and status, opportunities for personal development, and protection against physical and psychosocial risks. They can also improve social relationships and employee self-esteem and produce positive health effects.

Workers’ health is an essential prerequisite for family income, productivity and economic development. Therefore, the restoration and maintenance of work capacity is an important function of the health services.

Health risks in the workplace, including heat, noise, dust, dangerous chemicals, unsafe machines, and psychosocial stress lead to occupational illnesses and can exacerbate other health problems. Conditions of employment, occupation and position in the workplace hierarchy also affect health. People who work under pressure or in precarious employment conditions are likely to smoke more, engage in less physical activity, and eat an unhealthy diet.

In addition to general health care, all workers, and particularly those in high-risk professions, need health services that assess and reduce exposure to occupational risks, as well as medical surveillance services for the early detection of occupational diseases and injuries and work related.

Chronic respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, noise-induced hearing loss, and skin problems are the most common occupational diseases. However, only a third of the countries have programs to address these issues.

Work-related noncommunicable diseases, as well as heart disease and depression caused by occupational stress, lead to rising rates of illness and long sick leave. Noncommunicable occupational diseases include occupational cancer, chronic bronchitis, and asthma caused by workplace air pollution and radiation.

Despite the incidence of these diseases, in most countries doctors and nurses are not adequately trained to deal with work-related health problems and many countries do not offer postgraduate training in occupational health.

Health coverage for workers
In most countries, work-related health problems cause losses ranging from 4 to 6% of GDP. Approximately 70% of workers lack any type of insurance that could compensate them in case of occupational injuries and illnesses.

Universal health coverage combines access to the services necessary to achieve good health (health promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, including services related to the determinants of health) with adequate financial protection to prevent poor health from leading to impoverishment.

There are effective interventions to prevent occupational diseases. These interventions include, for example, the isolation of pollution sources, ventilation, noise control, the substitution of dangerous chemicals, the improvement of furniture and the organization of work.

The task of specialized occupational health services is to assess these risks and formulate recommendations aimed at preventing occupational and work-related diseases. Workers exposed to risks must undergo regular medical examinations to detect any health problems at an early stage, in which treatment and modification of the workplace can help prevent permanent damage.

Today there are specialized occupational health services available to only 15% of workers worldwide, mainly in large companies that offer health insurance and benefits for injuries on the job. In the context of the current global unemployment crisis, more and more people are looking for work in the informal sector, where they do not have any type of employment.

Reviewer overview

Protection of Workers' Health - /10

Summary

Primary health care centers can deliver some essential interventions to protect workers 'health, especially counseling to improve working conditions, detection of occupational diseases, and workers' health surveillance, although in the majority of countries the focus is still on medical treatment rather than prevention.

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