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Contemporary occupational health and safety Essay

What role did the state, the employers and the workers play in establishing the contemporary occupational health and safety regime?

In the 1960s workers in the United States sought state laws to compensate their disabilities due to poor working conditions that lead to Black lung disease. The workers were successful and this win was instrumental in passing the 1970s United States Occupational Health & Safety act, and subsequent policies in other countries including Canada. This paper will discuss the events that took place following this important act. workers, State and Employers role

A surge in workers injuries led to young workers demanding improved health and safety conditions. Although employers initially denied the poor working conditions and rejected requests for testing of harmful substances, the workers were persistent and eventually brought awareness and reform to industrial safety concerns.

A critical event in Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) movement took place in 1973 when a large amount of mine workers were diagnosed with cancer from exposure to dangerous materials at work. This led to a worker strike and resulted in the mining company and workers coming to an agreement that addressed both worker and union concerns with toxic substances. The workers believed that the government should be their health and safety monitor, and felt that up until this point the government had failed to look after the workers interests.

In 1974, the acting government (Progressive Conservative Party) was pressured by the New Democrat Party (NDP) and the United Steel Workers Association to establish a Royal Commission into the health and safety rights of Ontario’s workers. This led to a report that called for government action for OHS policies and legislation. conclusion

There were many factors that contributed to the OHS movements, but none as important as the workers fight. Robert Storey (2005) discussed some of the key aspects in his paper ‘Activism and the making of occupational health and safety in Ontario’:

“The health and safety movement that began to take shape in the late 1960s and early to mid 70s represented a mixture of several unique ingredients. First activism was based almost exclusively in mining and secondary industry, especially steelmaking and workplaces that utilized asbestos in the fabrication of their products. Always among the most dangerous and unhealthy places to work, the attempts by employers in these sectors to speed up production were resulting in notable increases in accidents and injuries. Second the workers who took out the health and safety cause any sectors were young working class males.”

He discussed as the young men became aware of their parents poor health conditions, it raised their interest towards their own health and the need for better work conditions. It was their unwillingness to accept injury, disease and death caused by poor work conditions, that led to the safety regulations that Canadian workers benefit from today.


Storey, Robert (2005) Activism and the making of occupational health and safety in Ontario, 1960s-1980 Policy and Practice in Health and Safety (pp 41-68) Essay 1.2 – Why are some workplace hazards and conditions more readily recognized than others? In particular, discuss the issues of women in the workplace and workplace pollution.

Workplace Hazards

A workplace hazard is a dangerous situation that exposes a worker to potentially harmful condition. Workplace hazards can be identified in several categories including physical hazards (tripping), biological hazards (exposure to viruses), chemical hazards (exposure to toxic chemical) and though it is often overlooked, psychosocial hazards (verbal abuse). Through the industrial revolution, workers were exposed to new technologies that resulted in new and increased workplace hazards. However it is not only the technology that caused these hazards, but also the competitive nature of capitalism to minimize costs, at the cost safety and working conditions. Foster (2011, page 5) also point out that “the use of new chemicals and compounds also brings a new kind of hazard to the workplace – the occupational illness”.

Women in the Workplace

We often relate workplace hazards to jobs that involve large machinery and extreme working conditions. However working as a Hotel housekeeper changing bedding all day or doing data entry in an office can also be hazardous to the workers health, it is just not as easily recognized. Foster (2011, page 15) states that “In general, men and women do perform different types of work, but the differences in their reported injury rates are not because one type of work is less dangerous than the other. The discrepancies are due mainly to our gendered notions of work, danger, and the human body, and so we need to look at work and its hazards differently.

Of the disabling injury claims in Alberta in 2008, only 27 percent were women even though women make up 45 percent of the workforce. Because the male dominated jobs like working construction are viewed as more dangerous, these types of jobs are more likely controlled with health and safety standards and hazards more easily recognized and reported.

Workplace Pollution

Workplace pollution is the presence of hazardous materials within a workplace that may get in contact with people while performing their job. Such workplace pollutants may affect both the worker’s and surrounding communities health. Foster (2011, page 10) explains that workplace pollution differs from other hazards “both in its nature and its consequences for workers”. Physical hazards (ie: falling off a platform or cutting your hand) are easily recognized, but workplace pollutants are difficult to recognize as they are often odorless, silent or invisible. Exposure to hazardous materials can occur through breathing polluted air, contact with toxic materials, accidental ingestion of toxins or excessive noise that can affect a worker’s hearing.

The most common workplace pollution occurs from breathing polluted air. A large amount of workplace illnesses go unreported, as even the workers and doctors may not be able to make the connection of their illness to exposure to toxins in the workplace. What further complicates this, is when symptoms don’t appear for years after exposure. Other issues with properly identifying the cause of illness is that the science behind a condition may be unknown or contested, or the fact that exposure to toxins can result in a variety of side effects depending on the individual.


There are several ways to improve workplace hazards for jobs that are not easily recognized as dangerous, such as the ones we discussed above. However it is not an easy solution. As women have been striving for equal rights and equal pay among many other things when it comes to our male counterparts, this sometimes comes with a catch. For example there may be specific safety concerns for a pregnant women to perform a physically demanding job, that would not be a concern for a male. By requesting special treatment for a pregnant women, it weakens women’s equality efforts.

In my opinion, decreasing workplace pollution is a little more straight forward, especially with new technologies available. Monitoring equipment and laboratory testing can test for avoid workplace pollutants, that would lead to severe health issues to workers and potentially surrounding communities. As social responsibility is an increasingly important part of a company image to the social and investment community, it helps workplace hazards get the attention, funding and education required to reduce workplace hazards.


Foster, J (2011). Industrial Relations 308, Study Guide
Athabasca University
Unit 1 Notes

Workplace Pollution. Retrieved May 5, 2013

Workplace Hazards. Retrieved May 5, 2013

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