Increased economic prosperity has resulted in more attention being paid to the field of occupational safety and health, organizers of the seventh International Occupation Hygiene Association's (IOHA) conference said yesterday.
"We are honored to hold the IOHA conference in Taipei this year. It is an international vote of confidence in Taiwan's commitment to this field," said Chang Cheng-ping (張振平), director of the occupational hygiene division of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), housed under the Council of Labor Affairs.
Researchers and experts from 34 different countries will discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to occupational safety and health, from traditional hazards such as exposure to heavy metals to new challenges such as the possible health ramifications for workers dealing with nanotechnology materials.
Occupational health issues affecting white-collar workers such as ergonomics and work stress have also received increased attention, said Feng Ching-an (馮靜安), editor of the Journal of the Taiwan Occupational Hygiene Association (TOHA) and a researcher in occupational safety and hygiene at Tajen University.
"You are putting yourself at risk right now just by the way you are jotting down your notes," Feng told the Taipei Times.
"The way your torso is twisted as you sit is putting stress on your spine," Feng said. "Over the years, such stresses add up and can result in back pain and other chronic issues."
Occupational safety and health is not just about preventing accidents or limiting exposure to toxic substances anymore, Feng said.
"As Taiwan becomes a wealthier country with more and more workers finding themselves in office environments, we are expanding the scope of our field to include repetitive stress injuries in white collar jobs and even worker's mental health as it relates to their job," Feng said.
"We are going beyond just worker safety issues, approaching the concept of occupational hygiene as understood in developed countries," Feng said.
Expanding of the field of occupational hygiene beyond blue-collar issues does not mean those problems are solved, however, Chang said.
"Of course, blue-collar workers such as construction and factory workers are still the ones who are most at-risk from their workplace," Chang said.
In addition to the inherent risk of some jobs, best practices are simply not followed in many factories and construction sites across the country, he said.
In a country where there are so many small and medium businesses, disseminating the necessary information and getting the rules enforced is difficult, Chang said.
"For instance, we have very well-crafted laws governing firecracker factories," Chang said. "However, all the serious accidents happen in unlicensed factories where the owners make these massive profits by cutting corners."