What is Occupational and Environmental Medicine?
It’s the specialty of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of work-related/occupational and environmental diseases and injuries in individuals and populations of people. The professional training and skill set entails the following components:
- Diagnosis. Accurately determining the cause and pathological mechanism of a work- or environmentally-related disease or illness and its specific association to a chemical (toxicological), biological, or physical exposure, hazard, or occupation is the key to effective treatment and prevention, as well as to compensability and preserving a job, occupation, or home. Occupational and environmental disease diagnoses often requires accurately differentiating other potential diseases and causes, i.e., differential diagnosis.
- Treatment. Many occupational or environmental diseases—when accurately diagnosed—can be effectively treated by removal of the identified or suspected offending substance(s) or conditions. Thus, diagnosis and causation is essential to appropriate and effective treatment. In some cases, temporary or permanent relocation from a job or home is necessary. Certain diseases require medication or other medical intervention. Others are irreversible.
- Prevention. For occupations with hazardous exposures, disease prevention and regulatory compliance (e.g., OSHA, MSHA in the USA) is achieved through medical surveillance, biological monitoring, exposure controls and monitoring, and training. Statistical analysis of individual and group medical and exposure data is conducted to evaluate compliance program effectiveness and areas on which to focus or improve measures to protect employees’ health.
- Public Health. The Occupational and Environmental Medicine physician diagnoses, treats and prevents disease not only in individuals, but also in populations (groups of people) with a common exposure, illness or disease in a workplace, industry, occupation, dwelling, or community.