Occupational Health Equity: Program Description

Program Description

Higher levels of work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities that are closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage are known as occupational health inequities. Some workers face increased risk for occupational injuries and illnesses as a result of social and economic structures historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. The Occupational Health Equity program leads research, outreach, and prevention activities that address these increased risks.


Social and economic structures that can contribute to occupational health disparities include:

  • Social institutions such as racism, xenophobia, sexism, and classism (Social exclusion based on characteristics such as race, class, age, nativity, and gender)
  • Employment arrangements such as temporary work and growing job insecurity for many employees.
  • Organizational factors such as business size


Some ways social and economic structures can lead to occupational health inequities include:

  • the overrepresentation of workers from certain social groups in dangerous occupations
  • differential treatment on the job
  • limiting access to resources that help protect workers on the job


A central challenge of securing occupational health equity is that the same structures that contribute to higher injury and illness risks also operate within occupational safety and health institutions, organizations and programs. As such, workers are not only at greater risk for injury at work but also can be excluded from institutional efforts to document and prevent workplace illness and injury. Occupational health organizations need to continue developing the internal capacity and institutional relationships to effectively work with these communities. The Occupational Health Equity program helps NIOSH and its partners build infrastructure and capacity to integrate an equity perspective into their current health protection and health promotion approaches.

Page last reviewed: December 18, 2019