Tuesday, 15 February 2011 19:06

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
Disability and Work
Ethical Issues
Education and Training
Development, Technology, and Trade
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