You can’t prevent every accident or injury. However, most accidents do not occur out of the blue. There are often several near-miss incidents before the worst-case scenario hits. Or the faulty equipment and questionable business practices were complained about before someone got hurt. Take steps now to prevent serious workplace hazards. Here are 9 avoidable workplace health and safety hazards.
#1 Slips, Trips and Falls
These accidents are among the most common reasons why someone receives a workers comp settlement. That’s true whether they broke an arm falling off a roof they were shingling or slipped in the restaurant while carrying trays.
Not every slip, trip, or fall can be prevented, but you can significantly reduce the odds of them happening and the harm that occurs when someone does fall. Whether you’re in a retail environment or an industrial one, have formal processes for reporting spills, marking them, and having them cleaned up. You don’t want people slipping on a water puddle created by condensation or a forklift skidding on spilled lubricant.
Install guard rails on stairs, ladders, and walkways. Give people fall protection equipment and require them to use it. Make training in fall prevention essential to being allowed up on the mezzanine or the customer’s roof. Pick up tools off the floor and have power cords and other trip hazards minimized if you can’t get rid of them. This may take the form of cord guards that provide a gentle step over the cords. That has the side benefit of allowing forklifts and dollies to pass over it smoothly.
#2 Chemical Exposure / Chemical Threats
Ensure that all chemicals are labeled and that everyone knows how to use them properly. For example, you don’t want your cleaning crew to accidentally generate mustard gas because of the mixed bleach with ammonia.
Store them in a sealed cabinet at the end of the work shift, so that they can’t be accidentally knocked over and so that their potential outgassing is contained. Have proper ventilation in all work areas and increase the ventilation if you’re working with chemicals. If anyone feels lightheaded or sick, remove them from the area and seek medical attention.
#3 Back Injuries
Back injuries are fairly common, and yet they’re generally easily prevented. The problem is typically either due to heavy loads or improper lifting methods. While you can’t eliminate the need to move heavy tools or equipment, you should provide mobile lifts used to lift and transport the items instead of asking staff to carry a 50- or 100-pound load. Providing proper training on lifting techniques is secondary. Your staff will be safer if you’re ensuring that there are two or more people to lift a heavy load if you can’t do it via crane or mechanized lift than giving them a lift belt and telling them to use their legs instead of their back muscles. If someone reports back pain or muscle strain, let them take a break or seek medical attention rather than telling them to get back to work.
#4 Transportation Accidents
Car accidents are the most common cause of accidental death. People driving a work truck are at risk of being killed on the job in a traffic accident. In some workplaces, employees are at risk of being hit by construction vehicles or forklifts. Asking people to be alert is insufficient. Ask your drivers on the worksite to slow down. Give them headlights, if they’re working in low light conditions whether this is nighttime driving on a construction site or driving through a dimly lit warehouse. Only allow qualified drivers to drive forklifts and work vehicles. If someone has an accident, investigate it. If someone has a history of driving too fast, carrying loads that are too large, or doing other unsafe things, yank their qualifications. If they’re coming to work drunk, they don’t get to drive.
#5 Communicable Disease
Your employees can’t file a worker’s comp claim because they picked up the flu at work. They can file a claim if they contract hepatitis because you didn’t have proper safety equipment for someone dealing with a sick patient or for someone cleaning the public bathroom. Encourage people to stay home if they’re sick to reduce the spread of disease. The challenge is finding the right balance since there are people who will take de facto vacation days by claiming to be sick.
#6 Being Struck by Objects
Anyone on a construction site is at risk of being struck by an object. That’s why hard hats with proper impact protection must be worn at all times. Anyone can be killed when a hammer falls six stories and hits them in the head, and a nail gun sliding off a roof can do the same type of damage. You can do more to protect workers by requiring tools to be put away when not in use and securing tool boxes so they can’t fall off the roof.
You also need to ensure that there are proper guards on machinery. People can be injured by wooden 2x4s that kick and saw blades that throw debris up toward their face.
#7 Electrocution / Shocks
Electrocution and shocks can happen in a surprisingly large number of situations because it isn’t restricted to people working on energized control panels at a construction site. Someone could step on an exposed power cord almost anywhere. Or someone could be shocked touching an improperly grounded piece of equipment like a generator.
#8 Repetitive Stress Injuries
Repetitive stress injuries are injuries caused by people doing the same thing over and over again. This type of injury could be caused by someone spending all day in front of a keyboard, but it can also occur when someone is doing the same manual assembly task 500 times a day.
How can you reduce the risk of repetitive injuries? Allow people frequent breaks. Rotate work so they aren’t doing the same thing eight hours straight. Automate processes so that machines are doing the repetitive assembly work. If it must be done by a person, reduce the weight of what they’re lifting or the pressure they have to apply to install something.
#9 Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is permanent. This is why you must at a minimum provide hearing protection for those in loud environments. This includes people working in factories as well as on construction sites. You can also take steps to reduce the noise level such as fixing loud vibrating motors or buying quieter generators for the construction site.