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Systematic literature review on the effects of occupational safety and health

The Work Environment Authority (WEA) in Denmark main function is to identify workplace hazards, promulgating rules to regulate those hazards and ensuring compliance through enforcement, such as inspections, guidance, recommendations, and perhaps penalties for violations1.

A previous review completed by Emile Tompa et al found that the introduction of occupational safety and health (OHS) regulations did not have a clear impact on the level of occupational injuries but that penalties for violating regulations did2. Tompa et al recently updated the knowledge base by reviewing the effectiveness of occupational health and safety regulatory enforcement. They concluded that there was strong evidence from actual inspections with penalties and moderate-to-limited evidence of no effect from inspections without penalties2.

In a Cochrane collaboration review on occupational safety and health enforcement tools for preventing occupational diseases and injuries from 2013, the authors concluded there is evidence that inspections decrease injuries in the long- but not short term and with uncertain magnitude of effect3. A Cochrane collaboration review on interventions to reduce injuries among construction workers concluded regulation alone is not effective in reducing non-fatal and fatal injuries3. Continuing company-oriented interventions among management and construction workers, such as a targeted safety campaign or a drug-free workplace program, seem to have an effect in reducing injuries in the longer term.

The aim of the WEA review was to assess the evidence from literature (1966-2017) that OHS legislative and regulatory policy could improve the working environment in terms of reduced levels of industrial injuries and fatalities, musculoskeletal disorders, worker complaints, sick leave, and adverse occupational exposures1. The search for peer-reviewed literature identified 14 743 journal articles of which 45 fulfilled the inclusion criteria and were further analyzed.

Studies considered the introduction of different legislations such as broad OHS regulations, self-regulation, machine regulation, mine safety regulation, needle stick regulation vertical fall arrest standard, and standards introduced in manufacturing. This review indicates that legislative and regulatory policy may reduce injuries and fatalities and improve compliance with OHS regulation1. A major research gap was identified with respect to the effects of OSH regulation targeting psychological and musculoskeletal disorders.



  1. Andersen, J. H., Malmros, P., Ebbehoej, N. E., Flachs, E. M., Bengtsen, E., & Bonde, J. P. (2019). Systematic literature review on the effects of occupational safety and health (OSH) interventions at the workplace. Scandinavian Journal Of Work, Environment & Health, 45(2), 103–113.
  2. Emile Tompa, Scott Trevithick, & Chris McLeod. (2007). Systematic review of the prevention incentives of insurance and regulatory mechanisms for occupational health and safety. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 33(2), 85
  3. Mischke, C. (n.d.). Occupational safety and health enforcement tools for preventing occupational diseases and injuries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (8).