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Worldwide, nearly 3 million people are killed as a result of workplace safety incidents or illnesses each year. Roughly 4000 workers are killed at work each year in the United States, where Hispanic workers are disproportionately more likely to die at work. The most common causes of workplace deaths are transportation incidents, workplace violence, falls, and being struck by an object.

Occupational safety is the science and practice of anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and controlling hazards for the potential to cause injury or illness to people or harm to property or the environment. Safety professionals focus on a wide variety of workplace hazards, including electrical hazards; machinery with potential to cut, crush, or pull in a person or body part; work at heights; confined spaces; excavations and trenches; explosive or flammable materials or environments; and moving equipment, such as motor vehicles, forklifts, or heavy construction equipment, with the potential to hit or run someone over. Workplace health hazards are primarily addressed by industrial hygiene, which is covered in the following chapter.

Safety professionals are trained to recognize that all occupational “accidents” can be anticipated from and be attributed to operational deficiencies or unsafe or unhealthy work conditions or practices. Safety professionals strive to identify and correct the underlying enabling factors that may lead to safety incidents in order to prevent them from occurring.

The occupational physician—whether employed directly by a company, retained on a consulting basis, or working in a clinic or hospital serving the industrial community—will be called on to work with safety professionals. In very large organizations, the physician and the safety professional may be part of a health and safety, loss-control, or risk-management team, or even may work in the same department. In smaller organizations, the safety professional often will be the point of contact for the company with the consultant occupational physician.

The physician’s interactions with the safety professional generally occur while:

  • Providing emergency and nonemergency medical services

  • Performing medical monitoring of workers potentially exposed to hazards

  • Implementing worker health maintenance programs

  • Participating in worker training programs on health hazards

  • Serving on management oversight committees reviewing the safety program

  • Assisting in incident investigations or reviews

  • Interpreting the medical aspects of hazard assessments or regulatory standards


In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHAct) created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an administrative agency within the Department of Labor, and made it responsible for the promulgation and enforcement of safety standards applicable to employers. Some OSHA standards recognize certified safety professionals (CSP), as well as certified industrial hygienists (CIH) and physicians, as “qualified” and “competent” to evaluate and control regulated hazards.

Several universities offer baccalaureate, masters, and even doctoral degrees specifically in occupational safety and health or safety management. Some state and community colleges offer ...

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