What is Occupational Medicine?

1. Overview of the Topic – Summary:

From Wikipedia: Occupational Medicine (OM), (until 1960 called Industrial Medicine), is the branch of medicine which is concerned with the maintenance of health in the workplace, including prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries, with secondary objectives of maintaining and increasing productivity and social adjustment in the workplace.

It is, thus, the branch of clinical medicine active in the field of Occupational Health and safety. OM specialists work to ensure that the highest standards of occupational health and safety are achieved and maintained in the workplace. While OM may involve a wide number of disciplines, it centers on preventive medicine and the management of illness, injury, and disability related to the workplace. Occupational physicians must have a broad knowledge of clinical medicine and be competent in some important areas. [1]

2. What is the focus of this Topic?:

From Wikipedia: Occupational Medicine aims to prevent diseases and promote wellness among workers. Occupational Health physicians must:

  • Have knowledge of potential hazards in the workplace including toxic properties of materials used.
  • Be able to evaluate employee fitness for work.
  • Be able to diagnose and treat occupational disease and injury.
  • Know about rehabilitation methods, health education, and government laws and regulations concerning workplace health.
  • Be able to manage health service delivery.[2]

This coincides with the goals of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), which is, “a multidisciplinary field concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people at work. The goal of occupational safety and health programs is to foster a safe and healthy work environment.” [2]

3. Why it’s listed here – What is the relevance to Architectural Medicine?

With Occupational Medicine’s focus on the “maintenance of health in the workplace, including prevention and treatment of diseases and injuries”[3], this topic has overlap with the built environment and places of work, as well as all built environments in general.

Architectural Medicine focuses on the creation and support of health and wellness in all built environments, and therefore there is an important overlap between these two fields. With the advent of people spending more time indoors, and the increase of potential health issues related to these indoor environments, Architectural Medicine works to expand this focus to all built environments not just workplaces or industrial areas.

While Occupational Medicine and Occupational Health and safety specialists, “work to ensure that the highest standards of occupational health and safety are achieved and maintained in the workplace”[4], Architectural Medicine would like to see this scope of attention expand to all built environments. Shouldn’t Doctors and Health professionals expand this focus to all built environments? What can be learned from the Occupational Medicine and Occupational Health professions and professionals in terms of clinical processes, standards and procedures?

These are topics that Architectural Medicine is working to support in creating new systems and processes to evaluate and assess built environment issues for better health and wellness.

4. Common groups and individuals involved with this topic:

While the history of health in the work or built environment is cited as far back as Hippocrates and likely began as far back as the history of humans creating shelter, the first textbook of occupational medicine and occupational diseases, De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (Diseases of Workers), was written by Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini in 1700. [5] His book on occupational diseases, De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (Diseases of Workers) outlined the health hazards of chemicals, dust, metals, repetitive or violent motions, odd postures, and other disease-causative agents encountered by workers in more than fifty occupations. This was one of the founding and seminal works of occupational medicine and played a substantial role in its development. He proposed that physicians should extend the list of questions that Hippocrates recommended they ask their patients by adding, “What is your occupation?”. [6]

In the current day, there are many organizations around the world that support, train and provide current information on Occupational Health topics for the professional and the public.

“The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), is an international non-governmental professional society, founded in Milan during the Expo 1906 as the Permanent Commission on Occupational Health. ICOH aims at fostering the scientific progress, knowledge and development of occupational health and safety in all its aspects. Today, ICOH is the world’s leading international scientific society in the field of occupational health with a membership of 2,000 professionals from 93 countries and is recognised by the United Nations as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with close working relationships with ILO, WHO, UNEP and ISSA.” [7]

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has created an overview of this field that can be viewed in the video below:

5. Resources: