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Occupational Health: A Discipline at the Crossroads of Clinical Medicine and Public Health

Occupational health is an often-underestimated theme, yet it poses a vital issue for both employees and employers. Combining elements of both clinical medicine and public health, it focuses on the complex relationships between working conditions, employee health, and the professional environment.

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According to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, this medical specialty examines the risks affecting the health of workers in professional settings, whether they are physical, chemical, biological, or psychosocial.

One of the pioneers in this field, Ramazzini, highlighted occupational diseases as far back as the 18th century.

Pathologies and Professional Risks

Today, work-related pathologies are numerous and affect almost all organic systems. Workers may suffer from respiratory disorders like hypersensitivity pneumonitis or asthma, often caused by prolonged exposure to chemical substances. Contact dermatoses, photosensitivity reactions, and skin cancers are also common in certain professions. Mental pathologies, such as anxiety-depressive disorders or burn-out syndrome, are exacerbated by the pressures and demands of the modern work world.

But the risks do not end there. Pathologies ranging from musculoskeletal disorders like backaches or carpal tunnel syndrome to more severe illnesses such as leukemia due to ionizing radiation, or even acute renal failure due to substances like lead or mercury, require constant medical vigilance.

Ethics, Law and Prevention in Professional Settings

Occupational medicine is not just a matter of diagnosis and treatment; it also encompasses ethical and legal issues. The occupational physician must thus guarantee the confidentiality of medical data while being impartial and independent. Legislation covers worker unfitness, workplace adjustments, and compensation for occupational diseases and work accidents. The quality of medical practices in companies is often ensured by audits and certifications, such as the ISO 45001 standard.

That’s not all. Specific professions like aerospace or diving have their own medical challenges. Workers in hostile environments may require remote healthcare, and disaster situations, such as chemical spills, require specialized expertise. Furthermore, communication and social dialogue in companies, as well as sociocultural aspects like intercultural management and consideration of migrant workers, also play a crucial role. Finally, public health actions such as the fight against addictions, the practice of physical activities, and preventive care like vaccination are also an integral part of its missions.

In Conclusion :

Occupational medicine is a rich and complex discipline that takes care of individuals while also being concerned with the health of populations in professional settings. It incorporates a wide range of skills, responsibilities, and ethics to ensure the well-being of workers. Prevention, particularly through training and adaptation of work to humans, remains the cornerstone of this indispensable discipline.

Philippe Casanova

Specialist in occupational medicine and forensic medicine.