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As a society, we place great significance on the value of work and productivity. This value system is reflected in the amount of time the average adult spends in the workplace. Similarly, the expectation of safety in the workplace is recognized as a good business model. A healthy workforce decreases the rate of employee turnover and costs associated with training and hiring. Healthy workers also minimize costs associated with work absenteeism and loss of productivity. Many workers are able to sustain their level of productivity without interruption, but as with any system upset situations can develop, resulting in injury and impaired function.

The field of occupational and environmental medicine is particularly geared to manage these issues. Health care providers in this field are trained as advocates and champions of safer work environments but also aim to effectively and safely manage work injuries. The nature of work itself and the potential risks associated with specific work settings have changed significantly since the industrial revolution. The field of occupational medicine has evolved with these changes. Specialists in this field function as change agents who can often spearhead adaptation of best practice standards and laws affecting a larger population of workers and their workplace.

Health care providers can also have an impact on individual workers by interacting with stakeholders such as the injured worker, the employer, case managers, third-party administrators, union representatives, and lawyers in managing the medical claims.

Workers’ Compensation & Workplace Safety Regulation

Most people have some familiarity with the workers’ compensation system. In the United States, many employers are required to obtain insurance for workers’ compensation, and this coverage secondarily provides wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured while performing their work duties. The general premise of this coverage also holds that employees are covered for all work-related injuries in this “no-fault” system. As such, employees do then have limited recourse to seek damages through the traditional tort system.

Many employers have developed active systems of minimizing costs associated with workers’ compensation coverage. Ideally this should involve development of safer processes aimed at reducing the risk of injury and illness. Some adaptations have been industry driven; others have emerged in response to regulatory mandates.

A. Regulation of Workplace Safety

The most recognizable regulatory body driving workplace changes in the United States is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA was created in 1970 by a congressional mandate (the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970) as a federal program and was tasked with the mission of improving workplace safety and enforcement of standards. Today, there are approximately 27 state-based OSHA programs, but these entities must still meet or exceed federal OSHA standards.

B. Risk Factors for Workplace Injury

OSHA estimates that annually approximately ...

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