The declining health status of today's workforce has decreased the predictive value of risk assessment practices in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), and has contributed to an emerging issue threatening workforce safety. Common risk assessment practices used across industries do not consider today's escalation in debilitating medical conditions among workers and the resulting increase in likelihood and severity of injury for the general workforce population. This paper will serve to expand the OHS professional's knowledge base regarding workforce health and raise awareness of this issue.
Risk assessment is an essential component of any comprehensive safety and health program. This practice has been effective in reducing the likelihood of injury, illness or accident before such an adverse event is experienced. This fundamental practice has contributed to the standardization of safety practices through attempting to address the multitude of factors contributing to potential injury, illness or accident.
Although necessary and utilized widely, the process of identification of potential harm to workers through risk assessment practices is losing effectiveness. This is a bold statement; however, we must acknowledge there is a glaring omission across the most commonly used risk assessment practices today: the underlying health status of the worker. A critical contributor, underlying health, is not considered in any of the commonly used risk assessment practices and therefore the physical and mental condition of the worker is assumed a constant in risk prediction. Yet this single unaccounted for factor is quite varied across individuals and one of the largest contributors to injury, illness and accident in the workplace.
Health risk factors are physiological conditions or lifestyle habits, such as hypertension or smoking, which can negatively impact physical or cognitive functioning. Underlying health risk factors are associated with the increased incidence of declining health and the onset of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or mental health issues. These health risk factors and diseases have an impact on basic human function such as potential decreased cognitive function or declining physical capacity. As a result underlying health and the presence of health risk factors are major determinants of both performance at work, and the likelihood and severity of workplace injury and illness.