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Health Practices and Occupational Health & Safety: Making the Link

Did You Know That...

  • if your body mass index (BMI) is in the overweight or obese range, this can increase your risk of a nonfatal workplace injury.
  • if you work long hours or shift work, or in high-demand, low-control work environments, you may be at an increased risk of becoming obese.
  • if you make unhealthy lifestyle choices this can lead to chronic diseases. These are a major source of disability, morbidity, and mortality among workers, and a major expense for employers.

Personal Health Practices and Occupational Health & Safety - What's the Link?

Historically, personal health practices and occupational health and safety have been considered separate areas. Occupational injury and disease prevention have been viewed primarily as the responsibility of the employer.

The approach to accident prevention has been:

The link between personal health practices and how these might increase the risk of occupational injury and illness is just starting to be made.


Here are some risks!

Some risks to employers associated with poor employee personal health practices:

Unhealthy weight

Excess body weight has been found to increase:

  • risk of developing chronic conditions including: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and psychological distress.
  • back and knee injury1
  • medications used for illnesses associated with obesity, such as diabetes, could influence the risk of workplace injuries2
  • work-related cumulative injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome3

Smoking and alcohol use

One study found an elevated risk of occupational accidents in subjects with regular consumption of alcohol and smokers smoking >10 cigarettes/day.4

Lack of physical activity

Sedentary lifestyle can lead to:

  • increased work absenteeism due to psychological complaints,
  • risk of depression
  • emotional exhaustion; and
  • overall poor general health5


How Can Employers Help?

Encourage workplace occupational health and safety programs that focus on both:

  • Preventing work-related illness, injury, and disability, AND
  • Promoting healthy living and lifestyles to reduce and prevent chronic disease

An effective program should:

  • Go beyond traditional methods of job-related ergonomic risk factors such as weights, frequencies, and postures.
  • Include personal risk factors such as smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, stress, and assist in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and physical activity.


Facts & Stats


  1. Pollack et al. (2007). BMI and Acute Traumatic Workplace Injury. American Journal of Epidemiology, 166: 204-211.
  2. Gilmore TM, Alexander BH, Mueller BA, et al. (1996). Occupational injuries and medication use. Am J Ind Med, 30:234–9.
  3. Geoghegan JM, Clark DI, Bainbridge LC, et al. (2004). Risk factors in carpal tunnel syndrome. Hand Surg, 29:315–20
  4. Mastrangelo et al. (2008). Occupational injuries and sickness absence: association with job demand, decision latitude, and life style in 2174 workers in the Veneto Region. Medical Lav, 99: Suppl 1: 31-41.
  5. Bernaards CM, Jans MP, van den Heuvel SG, et al. (2005). Can strenuous leisure time physical activity prevent psychological complaints in a working population? Occup Environ Med, 5;62:10–16.
  6. Evanoff, B. (2006). Physical activity, psychological complaints, and occupational health. Occup Environ Med, January; 63(1): 2–3.

Additional Resources


Other Topics

Revised: July 31, 2014


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