According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), between 1900 and 2000, the life expectancy in the US increased from 46 years of age to 74 years of age for men (48 to 79 for women). Most people can identify the top three causes of deaths in the US: heart disease, cancer, and stroke. However, most people are surprised to find out that the top three causes of death in 1900 were due to infections: pneumonia, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal infections. By 2000, deaths due to infection do not even make the top five causes of death. Most people would think that the reason for the drop was due to the introduction of antibiotics; however, deaths from infection dropped significantly before antibiotics were discovered. How could that be?
The reason for the drop is due to prevention, not treatment. Having a clean water system through chlorination, and an effective method of managing waste started the improvement. Education on bacteria, cleaning, better housing, and the introduction of vaccines continued the improvement. While important, antibiotics have had a minor impact on the decrease in deaths from infection. Prevention is the major reason for the drop in deaths from infections.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and safety professionals know that prevention is the essential element of any effective safety program. In 1982, OSHA initiated the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) with the stated goal that:
Participants develop and implement systems to effectively identify, evaluate, prevent and control occupational hazards so that injuries and illnesses to employees are prevented.
Prevention is key to developing a strong health and safety program.
When reviewing an event timeline, there are three phases: prevention, event and response. A common model for occupational health programs focuses on monitoring health through OSHA-mandated surveillance programs, has plans to respond to an emergency and focuses on the treatment of any injured employees.