Background: In the future, competitive industries will need to design for environment, health and safety as well as for productivity. Although the new areas of pollution prevention and clean production have evolved to address the design of production processes with concerns for the ambient environment, current pollution prevention models do not include explicit concerns for health, safety, and the work environment. The field of occupational health and safety has much to contribute to improve current pollution prevention approaches and solutions.
Methods: The application of work environment disciplines will need to be expanded from the conventional focus on "end-of-pipe" assessment and solutions, which take the production processes and resulting hazards as a given, to include a new focus on materials selection and process redesign. To make this shift, a new framework called "sustainable production" is proposed. The basic unit of sustainable production is the production process. The framework integrates a focus on the ambient and work environment along with a focus on productivity and the economic viability of the business enterprise in setting production process design parameters.
Results: By shifting the focus of occupational and environmental health and safety from exposure control to process design, sustainable production reduces the likelihood that concerns for health, safety, and the environment will be seen as antagonistic to productivity and economic development. To move a firm toward sustainable production, occupational health and safety professionals will need to participate in interdisciplinary workplace teams that design and build new production processes and that continuously evaluate and redesign existing processes.
Conclusions: This new strategy requires an expansion of the role of the occupational health and safety professional to include evaluation and redesign of processes that produce goods and services as well as the conventional evaluation of chemical, physical, and biological agents, work practices, and ergonomics. This expansion of occupational and environmental health and safety requires new research to develop the scientific and public policy basis of sustainable production.