Occupational Hygiene Posts

The importance of a health risk assessment in the prevention of occupational disease and illness.

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

It is ironic how companies think occupational disease prevention is expensive, but can settle for paying high costs for the compensation of occupational diseases, insurance premiums, fines and other legal costs. Insurance companies conduct risk assessments and based on their findings determine the premiums that have to be paid by the potential client. Banks do same when they have to lend money to their clients and yet to this day there are still companies that are of the view that they can do well in business and be socially responsible without performing any health risk assessments for their work environment. Such companies are happy with spending money on personal protective equipment and training that is not relevant to their worker exposure and in most cases inefficient in offering any protection to their employees.

A health risk assessment is like a diagnostic test for a car that needs repairs or service. Without a proper health risk assessment, a company cannot claim to know exactly what health risks its workforce is exposed to and how to best mitigate such risks. This means that the company cannot prioritise resources and will end up spending more than necessary. The failure to plan for and perform a proper health risk assessment has direct health and financial implications for companies. A health risk assessment is critical for the development of an effective, equitable and sustainable occupational hygiene programme as well as a risk based medical surveillance programme. A company cannot develop a budget for health risk management or perform any risk based medical surveillance without a health risk assessment.

A company cannot have an effective health risk management strategy without a health risk assessment (HRA). Information derived from a HRA can assist in the development and execution of risk communication and training strategies that address the needs and risks of employees and save companies money. Companies that fail to conduct HRAs are susceptible to poor health risk management decision making and put the life and health of their employees in danger. These companies are also vulnerable to misinformation since they do not take the time to understand how their operations can impact the health of their employees. In my personal experience I have seen companies get audit findings that they should not have accepted; they then go further to spend money, time and resources on closing these findings and showing off their certificates without really making a dent in the find against occupational diseases.

As one of the greatest investors of our time, Warren Buffett once said, “Someone is sitting in a shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago". A company that does not plant a tree today by investing in the process of health risk assessment cannot expect to sit in any shade of a healthy workplace, productive employees, lower insurance premiums, and lower risk of litigation, non-compliance and instability. The foundation of any effective, equitable and efficient health risk management strategy is a good and proper health risk assessment which will not burn the companies’ budget as much as neglecting it will do.

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