The first question a physician should ask their patient is: “What is your occupation?”
People typically spend around a third of their adult life at work. If the condition of that specific place –no matter where, when, how big, and what kind– is undesirable, adverse health effects are sure to develop.
Every year, around 2.3 million people across the globe die because of work-related accidents or diseases, 340 million occupational accidents occur, and 160 million workers are subjected to work-related illness. These 2020 estimates from the International Labor Organization will only increase over time, a clear indication of both the poor health conditions that the working population all around the world is experiencing and the lack of concern for changing them.
How did the numbers get so high?
Lebanon mirrors the work-related problems of other countries, especially developing ones, considering the presence of multiple hazards that contribute to disastrous outcomes on the health of workers.
Some may not wear any form of personal protective equipment while performing dangerous tasks such as cutting wood and steel or working with toxic chemicals with their bare hands. Many also adopt bad posture all throughout their undertakings, endangering themselves to a lifetime of chronic back or neck pain. They may even work in a messy but seemingly harmless environment, but actually be surrounded by unidentified and potentially carcinogenic chemicals and biological hazards.
Workers themselves are not to blame for what appear to be careless actions. Today, 45 percent of Lebanon’s population is living under the poverty line because of compounded political and financial crises. Workers accept occupational hazards because they are too busy trying to put food on the table for themselves and their families.
This vicious cycle of poverty and poor health –as well as the lack of means to get out– puts workers in a position where they are either unable to fully understand the importance of the state of their work on their health or cannot afford to both purchase protective gear, risk being fired if they take up their concerns with management, or go on without a salary in the span of time they are pursuing jobs with safer conditions.
As a whole, the situation takes root in governance surrounding occupational health and safety. Policy-makers in countries like Lebanon tend to disregard a safe and healthy workplace and fail to include it in the country’s list of priorities. Lebanese laws themselves form an obstacle to the protection of workers and prosecution of violators, as does the lack of both the enforcement of existing governmental standards and the resources that allows the Ministry of Labor to prosecute violators.
Instead, they shift their focus on acquiring more job opportunities and increasing the production of resources –not to mention the distracting compilation of economic, political, environmental, and social problems that currently exist in the country.
Safe workplaces, better economy
By addressing the issue of occupational hygiene, many of the country’s crises inevitably will also be ameliorated. Such measures could improve workers’ health and increase their life expectancy, reduce the number of people who leave employment early due to illness or injury, decrease social and health care expenses, maximize worker potential, and lead to more effective and efficient labor processes with technological improvements and higher productivity.
Tangible solutions to the neglect of occupational health exist, and can be implemented in Lebanon in a way that the nation benefits from their wide array of advantages. One such solution is educating students from a young age about the importance of occupational health, safety, and hygiene by integrating the issue within their educational system, hence cultivating a generation of employers and employees who are able to identify occupational hazards and control them. Another option is raising public concern by documenting and broadcasting cases of occupational accidents and diseases.
Employers must also be held responsible for work-related health issues. An opportunity presents itself in incentivising management to set aside a certain budget for obtaining the proper equipment to monitor and control occupational hazards, as well as to hire an occupational hygienist.
Occupational hygiene specialists recognize a hazard before it occurs, evaluate how risky it is on the human health, and, when all else fails, apply the appropriate control measures for physical, chemical, and biological hazards in the workplace. By minimizing risks in the workplace, occupational hygienists tackle the prevention component rather than treatment, which is the ultimate alternative.
Being conscious of the health of a workplace will minimize health complications for workers, as well as salvage millions of dollars spent for healthcare by the Lebanese government. The continuous maintenance of health and the prevention of disease concern not only the workers, but the business itself as well as the whole nation. In the end, health truly is wealth.