Occupational Safety and Health

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Occupational Safety and Health includes standards and systems designed to assure safe and healthy working conditions for all workers.  It is the goal of employers (and employees) that no one is harmed or injured due to working conditions. This field is can be termed occupational safety and health, workplace safety and health, or industrial hygiene.  The law ensuring the right to workplace safety for U.S. workers is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).   Nonetheless, in many work environments potential hazards exist and care must be taken by employers and employees to eliminate or minimize risk.  Preliminary data compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show a total of 4,821 fatal work injuries in 2014.

Many countries also have laws and government regulatory agencies similar to the U.S.  National organizations exist to regulate and address issues related to workers’ exposure to dangerous agents and situations.  In the U.S., OSHA is the focal point for ensuring safety through regulations, inspections and enforcement, while the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent worker injury and illness.  In the European Union, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work is the primary agency concerned with occupational safety and health.  The World Health Organization’s (WHO) website notes that “occupational health deals with all aspects of health and safety in the workplace and has a strong focus on primary prevention of hazards.”  These hazards can take a variety of forms: physical and mechanical, biological, chemical, and psychosocial, among others.  For example, workplace explosions often occur due to mishandling of chemicals (e.g. improper storage).  Chemical exposure hazards can involve any number of substances including solvents, heavy metals, petroleum, etc.  The resources listed here focus on toxicological hazards, be they chemical, biological, or radiological.


(All resources are suitable for general audiences, though some may also hold special appeal for audiences as marked –  for example, Also Scholarly

Chemical Hazards and Toxic Substances from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/hazardoustoxicsubstances), provides a good basic overview of chemical safety in the workplace, including terms and definitions and where to find related information.  It also provides links to specific allowable airborne concentrations of potentially harmful agents.

Additional links below are provided for viewers interested in more information from other organizations and government agencies and also specific types of workplace hazards.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (http://www.ccohs.ca) – Canadian government agency which promotes the total well-being of working Canadians.  Website contains numerous fact sheets, podcasts and webinars, many of toxicological interest.

Chemical Safety from the The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website –    (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/chemical-safety) –Presents a cumulative list of chemical databases which are relevant to workplace safety, several of which are also highlighted below (*)

Chemical Safety Practices & Recommendations  from the American Chemical Society (ACS). (http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/about/governance/committees/chemicalsafety/safetypractices.html) – The ACSportal to workplace safety, with a focus on chemical laboratories.

Hazard Communication: Working Safely with Chemicals (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay3CxDGXHdQ ) – An easy to understand overview of the various categories of hazardous chemicals likely to be encountered in certain work environments.  Video

International Labor Organization’s Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety (http://www.ilocis.org/en/contilo.html) – A comprehensive tool for obtaining information related to all aspects of safety and health at work.  Includes information on specific hazards and industries and links to outside resources. Written by world class researchers and industry experts.  Also Scholarly

International Chemical Safety Cards : A project of the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, and the European Commission. (http://www.ilo.org/safework/info/publications/WCMS_113134/lang–en/index.htm) – These cards are data sheets intended to provide clear and concise safety and health information on chemicals for workers and those responsible for occupational safety and health.

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)/Centers for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh)  – Conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent worker injury and illness.  Web site topics include information on specific chemicals – http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/chemical.html.

OSHA Occupational Chemical Database (https://www.osha.gov/chemicaldata/index.html) – From the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  Includes physical properties, exposure guidelines, NIOSH Pocket Guide, and Emergency Response Information.

Understanding GHS Safety Data Sheets (SDS’)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCI7XXExs7s – Explains the new Globally Harmonized System (GHS) format for Safety Data Sheets at the workplace. Video

U.S. Chemical Safety Board (http://www.csb.gov)  – The Board conducts investigations of chemical accidents at industrial facilities, drafts findings, and offers recommendations.  Their videos are available at http:// http://www.csb.gov/videos.

Workplace Safety (http://www.cas.miamioh.edu/statsandstories/archives10.html)  – An audio podcast in a conversational format from Miami University outlining some of the chemical hazards involved in workplace safety.


Related topics:  Hazard vs. Risk

(revised 8/3/2016 from original posting on 2/4/2015)