Few people ever expect their workplace to contribute to their untimely demise. Yet, that’s the reality for millions of people around the world. The International Labour Organization estimates that at least 2.3 million people die annually from work-related accidents and diseases. That’s over 6,000 people every day.
Understanding the most common workplace hazards can put us in a powerful position. The more we know, the easier it might be to protect our global workforce and see them live long, happy lives.
Purchasing safety products from leading suppliers like Workwear Hub Australia can go a long way toward protecting employees on worksites. However, safety hazards are still far too prevalent in the workplace. Tens of thousands die and are injured when working on construction sites and with machinery. These incidents are often related to slips, trips, and falls. The risk is often higher when working from heights like roofing, scaffolding, and ladders.
Many workers are also injured or killed when working in confined spaces, with unguarded and moving machinery, and with electrical hazards. Improper wiring, frayed cords, and missing ground pins can all result in severe injuries and even death.
Environmental or physical hazards are safety concerns related to a working environment. They can also relate to things you can’t necessarily see. For example, constant loud noises aren’t visible but can cause occupational deafness. High exposure to sunlight, UV rays, and even radiation can harm the average employee. You can be at a higher risk of skin cancer if you work outside.
Workers across several industries are exposed to chemical hazards every day. Chemical exposure happens when people work with or are near chemicals in the form of a solid, liquid, or gas. Illness, skin irritation, and breathing problems can be prevalent even with everyday chemicals.
Cleaning products, solvents, acids, and paints can all be chemical hazards, along with the fumes and vapors from solvents. Flammable materials like explosive chemicals, gasoline, and solvents can also be dangerous. Even pesticides are classed as chemical hazards. Employers can put controls in place to limit or even eliminate chemical exposure, such as:
- Substituting products with safer alternatives
- Supplying and requiring the use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Changing processes to minimize contact
- Providing and requiring the use of fume hoods
- Rotating job assignments
- Adjusting work schedules
Biohazards describe biological hazards that can cause us harm. Different biohazards exist across many industries, like schools, hospitals, and in the outdoors. The most common are bodily fluids like blood, bacteria and viruses, fungi, and mold. However, even insect bites, plants, and animal droppings can fall into this category.
Biohazards are not always avoidable. This is especially true when you work in an environment like a medical facility. Yet, employers have a responsibility to mitigate the risks. Once biohazards are identified, employers can put measures in place to reduce the risk of exposure. For example, gloves and masks are commonplace in hospitals. Immunization programs might protect employees working with animals.
Ergonomic hazards can take a considerable toll on workers, whether they’re working outside in the harsh elements, in a warehouse, or in the comfort of an office. Ergonomic hazards relate to the working conditions and work types you perform that might put a strain on your body.
For example, office workers might not have ergonomic workstations that prioritize posture. Some employees might also be put at risk of muscle strain and long-term damage through frequent lifting, repetitive movements, vibrations, and awkward movements.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are among the most common outcomes of long-term exposure to ergonomic hazards. These describe injuries of the tendons, muscles, ligaments, nerves, joints, and blood vessels. MSDs are often caused by our actions and when workplaces don’t follow health and safety standards. Employers are in a powerful position to prevent ergonomic hazards through engineering and administrative improvements, such as:
- Using more ergonomically friendly tools and equipment
- Providing job variety
- Adjusting work schedules and work pace
- Providing recovery time
- Encouraging exercise
- Modifying work practices
- Providing and encouraging the use of PPE
Work Organization Hazards
It’s easy to assume that working in an office, out of the elements and away from environmental hazards, will mean you’re not at risk of any occupational illnesses. However, that’s not entirely true.
There can be short-term and long-term hazards for employees affected by workplace organization woes. Often, these relate to workloads, management structures, and relationship dynamics. For example, a high-intensity office environment with long working hours might cause stress and strain. There can also be serious mental health consequences from workplace violence, sexual harassment, and intense workplace demands.
Unlike many other occupational hazards, most work organization hazards can be avoided. Employers can prioritize work-life balance, have standard working hours, and install processes for reporting violence, harassment, and discrimination.
What Can Employees Do About Occupational Hazards?
The onus is on employers to do right by their employees and limit occupational hazards as much as possible. However, that doesn’t mean employees don’t play a part in their own well-being. The average worker can do many things to increase workplace safety, such as:
Take Care of their Physical Health
Caring for your physical health can be crucial when you work in an industry with occupational injury and disease risks. Receive regular checkups with a healthcare professional and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This can include regular exercise and a balanced diet.
As uncomfortable as some PPE can be, it can often be crucial for health and safety. Most safety-conscious workplaces provide it for employee use. Ear plugs, safety glasses, helmets, and gloves are some of the many recommended options.
Follow Safety Guidelines
Safety guidelines are in place to keep you safe. Even if following them isn’t always convenient, they might reduce the risk of serious injuries or illnesses.
Report Unsafe Conditions
Unsafe conditions in a workplace can put everyone at risk. If you’re unhappy with a safety feature in your workplace, report it to your employer. If they don’t rectify the issue, you can file a complaint with OSHA.
Most workplaces aren’t without risks or hazards. However, you may be surprised by how many hazards there are in the average workplace. Awareness of them might put you in a stronger position to keep yourself safe.