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Occupational medicine is a medical specialty where training is focused on diagnosing, preventing and managing occupational related diseases and conditions as well as maintaining adequate health in workers.
Occupational health practitioners (OHPs) are doctors who specialise in occupational medicine. The duties of theses specialists are to promote wellness and prevent diseases among workers. OHPs, therefore, need to have adequate knowledge in the following areas:
- To be able to evaluate the employees' fitness for work and diagnose and treat occupational injuries and diseases.
- Awareness of potential hazards in the work environment including toxic materials and properties that are used.
- Must be able to manage health service delivery.
- Know about health educations and rehabilitation methods.
- Know about government laws and regulations regarding workplace health.
In order to take up a specialty position, a doctor must first complete their undergraduate studies. This is the medical and surgical degree that takes 5-6 years to complete, depending on which country you live in. Once the undergraduate degree is obtained, a newly qualified doctor must complete their internship training, which is 1-2 years.
Thereafter, a doctor may apply for an occupational medicine post at an institution that offers this residency programme. If a doctor's application is successful, they will then be invited to take up the specialist position which takes 2 years to complete.
The Responsibilities of an Occupational Health Practitioner
The following are the responsibilities of an OHP when they are involved in different roles in the workplace.
As an employer they must:
- Perform every reasonable duty to protect workers from getting a work-related illness or being hurt.
- Appoint a competent and reliable individual to be a supervisor, as defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
- Make sure workers know about dangers and hazards by providing them with supervision, instruction and information on how to work safely.
- Create workplace health and safety procedures and policies where more than five workers are regularly employed.
- Make sure supervisors know what is required to protect workers’ health and safety on the job.
- To have the workers select a worker health and safety representative (HSR) or establish a joint health and safety committee (JHSC) in order to help them carry out their duties under the OHSA.
- Make sure everyone abides by the workplace health and safety procedures and policies.
- Make sure that workers use and wear the correct and appropriate protective gear and equipment.
- Make sure that employees' protective devices, material and equipment are well maintained and in good working condition.
- Comply with applicable reporting requirements according to legislation.
As a supervisor they must:
- As an employer would do, make sure that every reasonable action has been taken to protect workers from getting a work-related illness or being hurt.
- Make sure workers use and wear the appropriate protective gear and equipment.
- Make workers aware about the dangers and hazards in the workplace and respond to any of their concerns.
- Make sure workers follow the law and workplace health and safety procedures and policies.
- Show workers how to work safely.
As an employee, they must:
- Act and work in a way that won’t hurt themselves or anyone else in the workplace.
- Wear and use the protective equipment required by their employer.
- Report any injuries to themselves or other employees to their employer/supervisor.
- Report any potential hazards to their employer/supervisor..
- Comply with the OHSA and its regulations.
- Comply with their workplace’s health and safety procedures and policies.