Future of Occupational Health Themes

To focus the discussion on the Future of Occupational Health, our steering committee defined a set of themes and questions to be addressed over the course of a speaker series. We identified a forward-thinking individual to address each of the following thematic areas in a comprehensive and creative manner, while engaging faculty, staff, and students. 

Themes

  1. Globalization and occupational health: Economic globalization has transformed manufacturing and some portions of the service sector, introducing competition between countries (and states) for both low labor costs and simple regulatory environments. How does such competition affect working conditions and associated risks? What factors mitigate a global race to the bottom?

  2. Policy, regulatory, and voluntary approaches to control: In the face of the many limitations of the central regulatory approach to work risks in the US, the OSHA Act, a number of alternative approaches to controlling risk have been discussed or tried. Which of these approaches have proved to be effective, and which are amenable to systematic implementation?

  3. Insurance and occupational health: Workers' compensation and the Affordable Care Act: Workers’ compensation systems remove work-related injury and illness from the general health insurance system, theoretically also providing an incentive to prevent injury and illness. How does the implementation of the Affordable Care Act change the landscape for covering work-related health costs, and what opportunities for prevention are provided in the Act?

  4. Vulnerable Populations: Immigrants, minorities, women: While the post-industrial workplace captures the imagination of many, disparities in the working conditions, and work-related risks, are concentrated among certain groups. What are the economic and social drivers of such disparities? 

  5. Work organization: The workplace landscape consists of small business, multi-national corporations, unionization, contract, contingent, part-time and distributed workplaces. How do the changes in work organization affect occupational health and safety, and our ability to manage risk?

  6. Emerging production technologies and 'green' production: Innovation and discovery are important drivers of economic activity. However, the impact of new products and production methods also affect the workforce. Automation and robotics affect workers both through economic displacement and profoundly changing the nature of work. New materials such as engineered nanomaterials, bio-active substances, and advanced polymers, including materials developed for their positive environmental (green) qualities, may be put into production and products without adequate knowledge of health impacts. How can we anticipate and control health impacts on the workforce involved in such systems?

  7. Emerging investigative technologies: Over the past decade or two there has been an explosion of biological technologies, especially those under the general rubric of ‘omics,’ opening a wide range of potential approaches to understanding basic biological processes, diseases, and prevention/therapeutic solutions. In addition, the world of cellular electronics, autonomous data collection, and ‘big data’ analytics is transforming numerous areas of research, but only beginning to be associated with environmental exposure assessment and health. The future of occupational health research clearly will exploit these new technologies, but just how this will be done, the potential impact on research and practice, and the potential for ethical violations inherent in these approaches needs careful planning.

  8. Measurement of burden and impact: Surveillance of exposure, disease, and injury arising in the workplace is notoriously inadequate, yet many policy decisions are based on the data in hand. What practical approaches can be used to estimate the burden of disease and injury in the workplace? How might such systems be applied in Washington, the USA, and around the world?

  9. Education of the professions for the future: The professions of occupational medicine, occupational health nursing, industrial hygiene, and safety engineers have specified expertise and roles. The traditional roles for these professions are employer-based services, which are becoming less common. Are these traditional professions prepared to address future needs, and how should the training be redefined to address these challenges? What alternatives to employer-based professional services can be effective in preventing and managing occupational risk?

  10. Climate change and occupational health: With the reality of climate change and its documented affects world wide, what does this mean for the work force? Workers can be affected both directly though heat stress and indirectly, through changes to the environment and processes that support their work activities. How can the field of occupational health, with the rest of the scientific community, respond to the changing climate and help mitigate its risks to workers?