The Value of Occupational Health Physicians in Maintaining a Safe Working Environment: A Case Study
Occupational health and safety guidelines are implemented to reduce workplace accidents, but their effectiveness depends on their implementation. During the 1970s, Japan passed the Industrial Safety and Health (ISH) Act that authorized occupational health physicians (OHPs) to make recommendations to improve workplace safety. In 2018, the ISH Act was revised to strengthen the effect of the recommendations by requiring companies to document and retain records of the recommendations made by OHPs.
Despite acknowledging the importance of OHPs in creating a safe work environment, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not legally required to employ internal OHPs. In most cases, the services are provided by external doctors from the Regional Occupational Health Centers. As a result, there is likely to be a lack of continuity in workplace inspections if the OHPs provided by the centers change. This is a cause for concern given that 96% of all businesses in Japan are small businesses.
In this report, one of the authors shares their first-hand experience as an OHP in a small business and illustrates the often-encountered situation in which workplace safety guidelines are ignored. The author had worked in an office of a company (Company A) that sent a few employees to perform contract work at a factory operated by a different company (Company P). Here, the employees had to use overhead traveling cranes, handle hazardous chemicals, and work at heights. Despite previously receiving recommendations from the site director of the office and an OHP, Company P had not made any safety improvements.
Upon noticing the violations, the author inspected the factory and advised Company P about the measures they needed to take to ensure compliance with safety law. However, Company P failed to implement the legally required safety measures citing a limited budget. Consequently, the violations were brought to the attention of higher management under the provisions of the ISH Act. The recommended safety measures were implemented after the CEOs of both companies got involved.
This case study emphasizes the importance of the 2018 amendments in encouraging companies to implement the safety measures recommended by OHPs. Additionally, it stresses the important role OHPs have in ensuring the safety of contract workers and employees in small businesses.
Link to the original journal article:
Effective use of an occupational health physician’s formal recommendation to improve the environment for contractors at a small-scale workplace
Kimiyo Mori, Chikage Nagano, Seichi Horie, Motoi Todoroki, Seiji Watanabe
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