You don’t have to look too hard to find dangers in the workplace. Some are immediately apparent while others may not be as obvious. But being aware of those dangers is the first step in preventing accidents from occurring as a result.
Every workplace differs regarding its potentially hazardous areas. For example, manufacturing has more danger areas than an office environment. In fact, the national average rate for fatal injuries is higher in construction than in any other industry.
When you combine these on-site hazards with other risk factors like lack of supervision, training, education or protective gear, the chance of injury increases. That’s why every employer has a moral and legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment — one that includes all of these factors, from protective equipment to proper training.
Here are four common workplace dangers to consider as you work to prevent health and safety hazards in your workplace.
The most frequent kinds of workplace dangers are those that cause physical harm. Common issues include tripping hazards, blocked aisles, improper wiring, machinery-related concerns, unguarded machinery, constant loud noise and frayed electrical cords. Physical dangers also stem from the operation of machinery without training, supervision or authority, or even from the use of poorly maintained tools and equipment. Failure to wear a suitable uniform or protective gear can also lead to unnecessary accidents or injuries. This gear helps to protect against exposure to elements like radiation, ultraviolet rays and extreme temperatures.
Train employees to be aware of their surroundings. This includes never standing or working under suspended loads or scaffolds. Failure to protect employees from falls was listed by OSHA as the top workplace violation for 2015 — a failure that has led to fatalities. Safety systems (such as custom platforms, scaffolds, safety cages and safety nets) should be used not just to prevent falls, but to prevent objects from falling on employees. Slips, trips and falls remain problematic for all industries countrywide.
Ergonomic dangers are harder to pinpoint, as employees often cannot tell when they’re putting strain on their bodies until after the damage is done. A combination of ergonomic work station assessment and employee training should address a wide range of risks including poor lighting, unnecessary force, manual handling, poor body positioning, uncomfortable furniture, repetition of movements and awkward movements, among other hazards.
Short-term exposure to these patterns may result in aching muscles and long-term exposure can cause severe problems requiring medical intervention or even surgery. Ergonomic issues aren’t limited to the use of older office furniture and equipment; they can also happen if employees maintain one position for too long.
Another familiar hazard in countless workplaces is the danger springing from chemicals. This includes exposure to cleaning products, acids, pesticides, vapors, flammable materials, fumes, carbon monoxide and gasoline. Ensure that all hazardous or controlled substances are labeled and the contents clearly identified. Also make sure the handling information is visible or available, regardless of whether it’s a solid, liquid or gas. Even routine workplace chemical solutions can cause problems for workers with sensitivities. Gas and chemical leaks are typical workplace concerns, as is the location of asbestos in older buildings and facilities.
Carbon monoxide detectors and increased ventilation are high on OSHA’s priority list for safety standards. Consider maintaining a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each chemical in the facility with follow-up training and safety enforcement.
Biological dangers are organic substances that pose a threat to human beings and other organisms. These biological hazards (or biohazards) come from those working directly with animals, plants or other people. The sources include blood, bacteria, fungi, mold, toxins, spores, bio-active substances, viruses, insect bites or animal droppings. Blood-borne viruses (BBVs), such as hepatitis and HIV, need to be clarified and brought to the attention of workers to maximize their safety — while at the same time minimizing any discrimination. Communicable diseases, caused by worksite exposure to biological hazards, are responsible for a large number of deaths every year.
Common Workplace Violations
If you’re unsure where your business may need assessment, this list is a good place to start. In 2015 OSHA listed these as the top 10 most frequent safety standard violations, in descending order.
- Fall Protection
- Hazard Communication
- Respiratory Protection
- Powered Industrial Trucks
- Electrical, Wiring Methods
- Machine Guarding
- Electrical, General Requirements
Once a hazard has been determined, it’s important to assess the possible risk and repair the situation as soon as possible. Regular workplace inspections are imperative to prevent accidents, injuries and illnesses. And don’t forget to record and review hazards as they arise to avoid their reoccurrence.