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The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH)

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Historical Perspective and Raison d’être

The International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) is an international non-governmental professional society whose aims are to foster the scientific progress, knowledge and development of occupational health and safety in all its aspects. It was founded in 1906 in Milan as the Permanent Commission on Occupational Health. Today, ICOH is the world’s leading international scientific society in the field of occupational health, with a membership of 2,000 professionals from 91 countries. The ICOH is recognized by the United Nations and has close working relationships with ILO, WHO, UNEP, CEC and ISSA. Its official languages are English and French.

At its founding the Commission had 18 members representing 12 countries. One of its primary tasks was to organize international congresses every three years to exchange ideas and experience among leading scientists in occupational health, a tradition which has continued to this day, with the 25th Congress held in 1996 in Stockholm.

After the London Congress in 1948 the international interest was evident and the Commission was internationalized with changes in its constitution, and the name was changed to Permanent Commission and International Association on Occupation Health, a change finalized in 1957. The internationalization and democratization of the commission grew with time and in 1984 the present name was established.

ICOH provides a forum for scientific and professional communication. To achieve this purpose, the ICOH:

  • sponsors international congresses and meetings on occupational health
  • establishes scientific committees in various fields of occupational health and related subjects
  • disseminates information on occupational health activities
  • issues guidelines and reports on occupational health and related subjects
  • collaborates with appropriate international and national bodies on matters concerning occupational and environmental health
  • takes any other appropriate action related to the field of occupational health
  • solicits and administers such funds as may be required in furtherance of its objectives.


Structure and Membership

The ICOH is governed by its officers and board on behalf of its membership. The officers of the ICOH are the President, two Vice-Presidents and the Secretary-General, while the board comprises the past president and 16 members elected from among the general membership. Further, if necessary the President may co-opt two members to the board to represent underrepresented geographical areas or disciplines.

ICOH has both individual and collective members. An organization, society, industry or enterprise may become a sustaining member of the ICOH. A professional organization or a scientific society may become an affiliate member.

Sustaining members may nominate a representative who fulfils the criteria for full membership and enjoys all the benefits of an individual member. An affiliate member may nominate one representative who fulfils the criteria for full membership and enjoys the same rights as a full member. ICOH’s individual members have a wide professional distribution and include medical doctors, occupational hygienists, occupational health nurses, safety engineers, psychologists, chemists, physicists, ergonomics, statisticians, epidemiologists, social scientists and physiotherapists. These professionals work either for universities, institutes of occupational health, governments or industries. At the end of 1993, the largest national groups were those of France, the United States, Finland, Japan, United Kingdom and Sweden, each with more than 100 members. Sustaining and affiliate members can be represented in the General Assembly, and can participate in the activities of scientific committees; they can also submit materials for publication in the newsletter, which also keeps them informed of ongoing and planned activities.


The most visible activities of ICOH are the triennial World Congresses on Occupational Health, which are usually attended by some 3,000 participants. The 1990 Congress was held in Montreal, Canada, and in 1993 in Nice and the 1996 Congress in Stockholm. The Congress in the year 2000 is scheduled to be held in Singapore. The venues of the triennial congresses since 1906 are listed in table 1.

Table 1. Venues of triennial congresses since 1906













Vienna (cancelled)






Buenos Aires


































New York





At present the ICOH has 26 scientific committees and four working groups, listed in table 2. Most of the committees have regular symposia, publish monographs and preview the abstracts submitted to the international congresses. ICOH issues a quarterly newsletter, which is circulated to all members free of charge. The bilingual newsletter contains congress reports, reviews of publications, a list of coming events and information on research and education, and other announcements relevant to members. Several of the scientific committees also publish monographs and proceedings from their meetings. ICOH keeps a computerized membership file, which is printed at regular intervals and circulated to the membership. The ICOH sponsors its scientific journal, the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH). The journal is available for members at a very affordable subscription rate.


Table 2. List of ICOH scientific committees and working groups, 1996


Scientific committees

1.                   Accident prevention

2.                   Ageing and work

3.                   Agriculture

4.                   Cardiology

5.                   Chemical industry (Medichem)

6.                   Computing in occupational and environmental health

7.                   Construction industry

8.                   Developing countries

9.                   Education and training

10.                   Epidemiology in occupational health

11.                   Fibres

12.                   Health-care workers

13.                   Health services research and evaluation

14.                   Industrial hygiene

15.                   Musculoskeletal disorders

16.                   Neurotoxicology and psychophysiology

17.                   Occupational health nursing

18.                   Occupational toxicology

19.                   Organic dusts

20.                   Pesticides

21.                   Radiation and work

22.                   Occupational health services in small industries

23.                   Shiftwork

24.                   Toxicology of metals

25.                   Work-related respiratory disorders

26.                   Vibration and noise

Scientific working groups

1.                   Occupational and environmental dermatoses

2.                   Handicap and work

3.                   Reproductive hazards in the workplace

4.                   Thermal factors





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Part I. The Body
Part II. Health Care
Part III. Management & Policy
Development, Technology, and Trade
Disability and Work
Education and Training
Ethical Issues
Labour Relations and Human Resource Management
Resources: Information and OSH
Resources, Institutional, Structural and Legal
Community level
Regional and National Examples
International, Government and Non-Governmental Safety and Health
Topics In Workers Compensation Systems
Work and Workers
Worker's Compensation Systems
Part IV. Tools and Approaches
Part V. Psychosocial and Organizational Factors
Part VI. General Hazards
Part VII. The Environment
Part VIII. Accidents and Safety Management
Part IX. Chemicals
Part X. Industries Based on Biological Resources
Part XI. Industries Based on Natural Resources
Part XII. Chemical Industries
Part XIII. Manufacturing Industries
Part XIV. Textile and Apparel Industries
Part XV. Transport Industries
Part XVI. Construction
Part XVII. Services and Trade
Part XVIII. Guides

Resources: Institutional, Structural and Legal Additional Resources

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Resources: Institutional, Structural and Legal References

African (Banjul) Charter On Human and People’s Rights. 1982. Document No. 21 ILM 59. Adopted 27 June, 1981.

Alston, P. 1984. Conjuring up new human rights: A proposal for quality control. Am J Int Law 78:607-621.

Commission of the European Communities. 1990. Health and safety at work in the European Community, Social Europe.

Corn, JK. 1992. Response to Occupational Health Hazards: A Historical Perspective. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Corn, M. 1985. Preventing Injury and Illness in the Workplace. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

European Social Charter. 1994. Signed by the Council of Europe on 18 October 1961. Entered into force on 26 February 1965. In Twenty-Five Human Rights Documents. New York: Columbia Univ. Centre for Study of Human Rights.

Faden, R. 1985. Reproductive Health Hazards in the Workplace. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Feitshans, IL. 1993. Designing an Effective OSHA Compliance Program. Deerfield, Ill.: Boardman Callaghan.

—. 1994. Job security for pregnant employees: The model employment termination act. Ann Am Acad Polit SS 119 (November).

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1985. International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides.

Friedman, W. 1969. International Law: Cases and Materials. New York: American Casebook Series.

Grad, FP and IL Feitshans. 1992. Article 12: Right to health. In US Ratification of the International Covenants On Human Rights, edited by H Hannum and D Fischer. Washington, DC: American Society of International Law.

Henkin, L. 1990. International law: Politics, values and functions. General course on public international law. In Academy of International Law Offprint of Collected Courses. Vol. 216. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff.

Henkin, L and JL Hargrove (eds.). 1992. Human Rights: An Agenda for the Next Century. American Society of International Law.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 1994. International Standards for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and the Safety of Radiation Sources. Vienna: IAEA.

International Convention on The Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women. 1979. Document no. ILM. 33, 12 and 28 ILM 1446, Arts. 6 and 27. Adopted 18 December 1979.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). 1994. In Twenty-Five Human Rights Documents. New York: Columbia Univ. Centre for Study of Human Rights.

International Labour Organization (ILO). 1984. Improving Working Conditions and Environment: An International Programme (PIACT). Geneva: ILO.

—. 1990. International Directory of Occupational Safety and Health Services and Institutions. Occupational Safety and Health Series, No. 66. Geneva: ILO.

—. 1991. Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents. An ILO code of practice. Geneva: ILO.

—. 1991. Occupational Exposure Limits for Airborne Toxic Substances. Occupational Safety and Health Series, No. 37. Geneva: ILO.

—. 1992. Constitution of the International Labour Organization and Standing Orders of the International Labour Conference. Geneva: ILO.

—.1993. Protection of Workers from Power Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields. Occupational Safety and Health Series, No. 69. Geneva: ILO.

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—. 1996b. Recording and Notification of Occupational Accidents and Diseases. An ILO code of practice. Geneva: ILO.

—. 1996. Accident Prevention on Board Ship at Sea and in Port. An ILO code of practice. Geneva: ILO.

—. 1996c. Management of Alcohol and Drug-related Issues in the Workplace. An ILO code of practice. Geneva: ILO.

Johnston, A. 1970. The International Labour Organization: Its Work for Social and Economic Progress. London: Europa Publications.

Mausner, JS and S Kramer. 1985. Epidemiology: An Introductory Text. Philadelphia: WB Saunders.

Morgenstern, F. 1982. Deterrence and Compensation: Legal Liability in Occupational Safety and Health. Geneva: ILO.

Nightingale, E. 1990. Genetic Monitoring and Screening in the Workplace. Geneva, ILO.

Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). 1980. Official document No. 173. Washington, DC: PAHO.

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Parmeggiani, L (ed.). 1983. Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety. Geneva: ILO.

Ransom v. Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons Ltd. 1971. Queen’s Bench Division, 12 March 1971.

Rothstein, M. 1984. Medical Screening of Workers. Washington, DC: Bureau of National Affairs (BNA).

Ruda, JM. 1994. Those who turn principles into reality. World Work Mag ILO (10) (December).

Samsom, KT. 1984. The changing pattern of ILO supervision. Int Labour Rev 569.

Sigler, JA and JE Murphy. 1988. Interactive Corporate Compliance: An Alternative to Regulatory Compulsion. New York: Quorum Books.

Stellman, J and S Daum. 1973. Work Is Dangerous to Your Health. New York: Pantheon Books.

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TUTB. 1991. Synopsis of European Health and Safety Directive.

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Virginia Workmens’ Compensation Act Annotated. 1982. Sec. 65. 1-7. Charlottesville, Va: Michie.

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—. 1978. Declaration of Alma-Ata. International Conference on Primary Health Care, 6 to 12 September 1978, Alma-Ata, USSR.

Wright v. Dunlop Rubber Co. and another. 1971. Queen’s Bench Division, 21 April 1971.