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What are the Most Common Occupational Health Hazards?

Karyn Maier
Updated May 17, 2024
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Occupational health hazards refer to the potential risks to the health and safety for those who work outside the home. According to the World Health Organization, this represents about 70% of adult men and up to 60% of adult women throughout the world, and an estimated additional 40 million adults enter the global workforce each year. Of course, the specific occupational hazards faced by this large and growing number of people depends on the region and its economic standing, but there are some of the common hazards faced by workers worldwide.

Topping the list internationally are structural failures and mechanical accidents. This includes structures vulnerable to adverse weather conditions, moving and/or unprotected parts of machinery, or general equipment failure. These occupational health hazards exist fairly equally in developed and undeveloped countries, regardless of industry.

One of the most common work-related injuries to occur globally is the development of musculoskeletal disorders caused by heavy lifting and performing tasks that require repetitive motions. These occupational health hazards are also responsible for the most incidents of disability claims, whether temporary, long-term, or permanent. Muscle injuries due to physical stress most often occur in occupations such as construction and farming, while repetitive motion injuries are most often sustained in environments related to services that typically involve heavy typing and data entry. Also grouped into this category are ergonomically poor working conditions and equipment.

Hearing loss is another hazard encountered by those who work in industries such as construction and manufacturing. In fact, hearing loss ranks with mechanical hazards in terms of being one of the most common occupational health hazards in both developed and developing countries. Typically, this problem occurs over time from chronic exposure to noisy machinery without the use of earmuffs designed to protecting hearing. Even long-term exposure to vibrations can contribute to hearing loss.

Exposure to chemicals and other biological agents account for one of the most common and most harmful occupational hazards that effect several industries. The health risks from these hazards include liver damage, cancer, and reproductive disorders from chronic exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, and corrosive substances. Health care workers are at particular risk for contracting diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B and C. Others, such as those who work in agriculture, are at increased risk of infections caused by fungi and parasites. Other groups are affected by a high incidence of skin and respiratory disorders due to exposure to allergens such as mold, bacteria, and organic dusts.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Karyn Maier
By Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to WiseGeek is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill Mountain region, Karyn is also a magazine writer, columnist, and author of four books. She specializes in topics related to green living and botanical medicine, drawing from her extensive knowledge to create informative and engaging content for readers.
Discussion Comments
By MrMoody — On May 13, 2011

@Mammmood - My understanding is that, as with so many things, “It depends.” It certainly can be considered one of many workplace hazards. A doctor would have to certify that it was work related. If you lost income your insurance company may instead insist that you file for short term disability.

The best thing to do is consult with your HR and ask to file a claim.

By Mammmood — On May 12, 2011

@NathanG - Do you know if workman’s comp covers carpal tunnel syndrome?

By NathanG — On May 11, 2011

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a big occupational health safety hazard in the I.T. industry. Some people have to wear splints or use special split keyboards in order to do their work properly without experiencing pain.

Tendinitis can result as well. If you have this condition you have to do special muscle exercises to strengthen your muscles and use ice packs to reduce inflammation. You can get cortisone injections but these tend to weaken your muscles over time.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to WiseGeek is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill...
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