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What is Occupational Medicine? The Ultimate Guide

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Occupational medicine is an essential piece of a safe workplace and can keep that workplace running smoothly. Understanding what it covers and the benefits of strong occupational health services can dramatically improve worker health and safety.

What Is Occupational Medicine?

Occupational medicine, or occupational health, concerns the health and safety of workers and the treatment of workers when they fall ill or become injured on the job. The prevention of workplace injury is an important component of an excellent occupational health program at a company.

Patient filling out form at a doctor's office

Why Occupational Medicine Is Important

Occupational medicine is an important piece in making a workplace safer and more productive. It does this by:

  • Providing a workplace with set quality controls
  • Reducing worker stress
  • Improving productivity
  • Reducing work absences
  • Reducing turnover
  • Improving company morale
  • Creating a happier, healthier workforce

How Occupational Medicine Works

Occupational medicine runs most effectively when a company maintains occupational health and safety programs that run in both a preventive and efficient way when injuries happen. Physicians trained in occupational medicine are typically the primary responders for illnesses or injuries that occur at the workplace.   

What is an Occupational Health Assessment?

Occupational health assessments, or occupational health checks, are employee health screenings meant to be a preventive measure for employers looking to hire new employees. 

Different Types of Occupational Health Assessments

An occupational health assessment can be used to either make sure a workplace has the appropriate accommodations in place to ensure a safe work environment for that employee or to measure whether that employee is fit for the demands of the job. 

The type of health check, if any, conducted by a prospective employer depends on the qualifications required by employees within that position. They are typically performed by a healthcare provider who specializes in occupational health.

Worker getting their blood drawn

Pre-Employment Health Assessments

Employers use pre-employment health assessments to determine whether a prospective employee will be able to meet the demands of a job and whether there are health factors that may hinder that employee’s job performance. 

This does not necessarily mean that an employee won’t be hired but offers an employer a better understanding of the support an employee may need to handle that position. These kinds of screenings may include routine drug tests or basic physicals.

Fitness for Work Assessments

Jobs that require a certain level of physical fitness may require fitness for work assessments. The purpose of this kind of health check is to show whether an employee will be able to handle those demands without harming themselves or others.

Job Specific Assessments

Job-specific assessments are designed to show an employer whether a prospective employee will be able to perform specific tasks at a company. They may be unique to that company or, more broadly, looking at areas like a prospective employee’s handling of repetitive tasks, organizational skills, or performance in a simulated task.

Man getting a health assessment from a doctor

8 Most Common Occupational Diseases and Injuries

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors and gathers research about workplace injuries and illnesses through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Thanks to that oversight, employers better understand the most common conditions and injuries that can happen in the workplace. 

Note: The injuries and conditions below are simply the most common. Occupational health can cover any injuries and illnesses that occur in the workplace, including those related to mental health. Since the start of the pandemic, the CDC has become more concerned with the effects of stress and mental health on employee performance and the well-being of workers. 

Loss of Hearing

Occupational hearing loss is the most common health condition when it comes to workplace injuries or illness. It can be caused by chronic exposure to loud noise and other agents, even heat, or acute ear damage from a workplace accident.

Woman getting a hearing test

Allergic and Irritant Dermatitis

Allergic or irritant dermatitis, or contact dermatitis, can occur after exposure to various foreign substances in the workplace. According to the CDC, skin diseases are the second most common occupational health condition.

Rash on a person's arm

Respiratory illnesses (Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

Occupational asthma can be caused by exposure to irritants or foreign agents. That can trigger a new case of asthma or cause a recurrence of childhood asthma that has become dormant. 

Doctor examining a lung x-ray

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities include but are not limited to conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and lateral epicondylitis, or what’s known more commonly as tennis elbow. These conditions are repeated use injuries found in industries where workers are tasked with repetitive, forceful movements.

Woman with carpal tunnel visiting the doctor

Low Back Disorders

Low back disorders are a common occupational health condition that can be difficult to treat and diagnose. They are most commonly linked back to jobs that require heavy lifting, being on one’s feet for most of the day, even awkward seating at the office.

Woman with lower back pain

Infectious Diseases

Jobs that require daily interaction with populations at higher risk of infectious disease or lab work that may force interactions with those materials put employees at higher risk for contracting those diseases. They can include tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis B and C and HIV.

doctor testing blood

Fertility and Pregnancy Abnormalities

Fertility and pregnancy abnormalities caused by exposure to agents and chemicals found in the workplace are of growing concern in the world of occupational health. As there simply isn’t enough research out there about everything that can cause eventual congenital disabilities or infertility, the CDC has made this area a priority when it comes to additional studies.

Traumatic Injuries

Slips, falls, equipment injuries, and other workplace accidents are costly to both workers and the workplace. Depending on the traumatic injury, a worker may not be able to return to a job following the incident or lose time on the job in recovery.

This category includes fatal workplace injuries, seen most often in four primary industries: mining, construction, transportation, and agriculture.

Man slipping and falling on the job

What are the benefits of an occupational health program?

A strong occupational medical services program boasts several benefits on top of the ultimate result: a healthier, happier workforce.

Reduced Expenses

Reduced workforce injuries and illnesses lessen expenses for a company by lowering insurance costs, decreasing workers’ compensation costs and reducing costs associated with lost workdays and training of substitute or replacement employees.

Prompt Care

After a workplace incident, workers who are treated right away have a better chance of positive outcomes and return to work more efficiently.

Doctor wrapping the wrist of a patient

Treatment and Evaluation by Physicians Skilled in Occupational Medicine

A healthcare provider specializing in occupational health is well-versed in health and safety regulations and better able to provide employees with treatment plans that allow them to return to work as safely and efficiently as possible.

Same Day Status Reports and Doctor’s First Report

Receive incident reports the day of that incident, including the Doctor’s First Report, with a strong occupational health program. A delay in reporting documents needed for any compensation or insurance claims can lead to penalties for an employer down the line.

Doctor filling out a patient report

Occupational and Sports Medicine-Oriented Physical Therapy Programs

Programs focused on occupational health are well-equipped to handle the most common workplace injuries, including those that require regular follow-up with physical therapists. 

Man a a physical therapy appointment

Help with the Workers’ Compensation Process

Workers’ compensation processes can be time-consuming and confusing, but a strong health program takes the guesswork out of the process. It’s also an added set of eyes to a legal process that must be followed carefully to protect both employers and employees. 

Educational Health and Safety Programs

A robust occupational health program includes employee education around injury and illness prevention, workplace hazards and company-wide health protocols.

A Safer Workplace

A workplace without a solid occupational health plan in place is an unsafe workplace. A comprehensive health program isn’t just about responding to occupational injury. It’s about preventing injuries and illness from happening in the first place.

People sanitizing and cleaning an office

How to Develop an Occupational Health Program

How to develop an occupational health program graphic

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, an occupational health program includes several key components:

  • Management Leadership: Those in charge at a company are committed to creating a program by setting aside resources to do so, including health and safety across planning decisions, and showing employees that higher-ups value their health.
  • Worker Participation: Workers that feel their input is valued with a health program are more likely to be invested in it. This can happen by allowing workers to provide opinions on safe work practices, train new workers on safety standards and create a safe space to report unsafe practices and job hazards.
  • Find Hazards: Finding hazards that may cause worker injury, or illness is vital in promoting worker health. Leaders should involve workers in the effort, as they know best about practices that may be harmful or become a problem down the line. 
  • Fix Hazards: Once hazards are identified, it’s up to the company’s leaders to fix them. This can look like training around emergency procedures or safety protocols or checking that existing safety standards are still in place and being followed by workers.

Why Use Reliant Urgent Care for Your Company’s Occupational Health Needs

Comprehensive occupational medical care can be easier said than done. On top of the overall benefits of an occupational health program, Reliant Urgent Care offers some incredible added bonuses.

Evaluation and Treatment of Workers’ Compensation Cases

The workers’ compensation process can be cumbersome. Reliant offers efficient evaluation and treatment for cases involving potential compensation and insurance claims.

Woman with a workplace injury calling to check on her worker's compensation claim status

Occupational Health Testing

Reliant offers occupational health testing based on the needs of a company, whether that is part of a pre-employment health check or ongoing health screening services.

Employee Physicals

Reliant offers both pre-employment physicals as a method of pre-employment screenings and executive physicals for eligible members. Executive physicals are more comprehensive and focused on disease prevention.

Person getting their blood pressure taken during a physical exam

Orthopedic Medicine

Complex injuries, particularly repeated use injuries, often require the support of an orthopedic specialist. The providers at Reliant can evaluate and treat injuries related to orthopedic medicine.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for workplace injuries is an important tool in getting an employee back to work safely. Services include teaching an employee how to avoid stressing injured muscles, bones or otherwise to avoid a recurrence of that injury. 

Essential Tools & Equipment

You can rest assured that Reliant has all of the state-of-the-art x-ray, lab and toxicology equipment at the ready to complete comprehensive evaluations and treatment plans for workplace injuries and illnesses.

X-Ray machine in a doctor's office

Bilingual Health Care Staff

Bilingual health care staff are on hand to offer language services for staff in need of translation following a workplace injury or illness.

Rapid Evaluation of Workplace Exposure/Work Injuries

Reliant offers rapid virtual evaluation for workplace injuries and occupational exposures for workers and employers. Easy online booking allows for maximum efficiency when it comes to workplace incidents.   

Woman meeting with her doctor virtually

Real-Time Monitoring

At Reliant Urgent Care, employers can monitor the care of their employees in real-time. This can give employers peace of mind that their workers are getting the care they need effectively and efficiently. 

The safety of your workforce is in good hands at Reliant. Contact us to talk more about creating stronger preventative occupational health programs at your place of business or for your day-to-day healthcare needs. Convenient urgent care locations in Los Angeles make us an efficient resource for most illnesses and injuries.