A Focus on Workplace Hazards
When it comes to workplace safety there are some hazardous conditions that are more common than others. In this article we will look at some of the most common workplace hazards. Some of those conditions include electrical, mold, carbon monoxide, floods, and chemicals. Additionally, we'll look at the process that should be followed for performing hazardous clean-up. In this article, we also take a look at other important hazardous workplace situations such as asbestos, fire risks, and hazard communication.

Common Workplace Hazards

With planning and taking safety precautions, most workplace hazards can be avoided for the most part. But if you work in a position that does toxic clean-up, you may not be able to avoid being exposed to those hazards. However, you still will have safety precautions to take that will minimize the risks of injury or illness. Much of workplace safety comes in the inspection and planning periods so that the right protocols are put into place and then followed up on to ensure they are being used correctly.

Did you know?

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the number of women in the workforce has greatly increased over the last 50 years, going from 34 percent to 60 percent. They report that women have more work-related cases each year of carpal tunnel syndrome, anxiety and stress disorders, and tendinitis and respiratory diseases. Women also may experience increased pressure and stress due to sexual harassment, issues in trying to balance family and work, and handling heavy workload demands.

Chemicals - A wide variety of health hazards can arise from exposure to chemical substances. The chemical hazards can be in the form of gases, dust, fumes, corrosives, solids, vapors, and liquids. Those in the workplace can be exposed to them through inhaling them, ingesting, or absorbing them into their bodies. Chemical hazards can be present at all types of job settings and can create serious health risks. It is important to always follow the correct safety protocols when using chemicals to help make their use safer.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are an important part of any workplace. Any time chemicals are used, there needs to be a MSDS. This sheet explains the risks, proper usage and storage, and emergency measures to take, should they be needed.

Electrical hazards are another primary concern for workplaces. Any power cords that are fraying or worn can be a risk. It is advisable to keep at least 10 feet away from power lines that are energized and ensure that all electrical equipment is in good working order and grounded before being used. Electrical work should only be conducted by qualified individuals to avoid problems later.

Confined spaces can pose a big threat for those working in them, such as tanks, sewers, or vaults. It is important in these confined areas to make sure there is proper ventilation to help avoid the risk of asphyxiation, extreme temperatures, poisoning, or explosions.

Fire is a common workplace safety issue. Fire poses a risk, which can be greater, depending on the type of field one is working in; but it's a risk that everyone must be aware of. All workplaces should have properly working fire extinguishers that are placed in areas that employees will know about. There should also be an emergency escape route at the workplace and the company should have a couple of short fire drills per year to ensure that people know where the extinguishers are and can follow the escape route.


Helpful Tools

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Workplace Safety course?

The United States Department of Labor offers additional information on protecting workers from fire hazards. Check out this site for information on fire exit and extinguisher requirements, developing a fire emergency and prevention plan, and more.

Asbestos is a workplace hazard that many people are familiar with. It poses a big health risk and it is also highly regulated. OSHA estimates that 1.3 million employees that work in the construction and general industry are exposed to a significant amount of asbestos on the job each year. The heaviest exposures to it are those working in construction, especially those that are in demolition and renovation. However, a lot of manufacturing employees are also exposed to it during the making of friction products, insulation, paints, coatings, plastics, textiles, and other building materials. They are also exposed to it during clutch and automotive brake repair work.

Did you know?

According to National Cancer Institute, about 70 to 80 percent of those with mesothelioma have a history of working around asbestos. In fact, working with asbestos is the major risk factor for mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the mesothelium, a membrane that covers and protects most of the body's internal organs. The symptoms of mesothelioma often do not appear for 30 to 50 years after exposure to the asbestos.

Workplace Emergencies

While workplace emergencies are not at the top of most people's minds, it is something that everybody needs to consider. Emergencies happen, and when they do, it can create a lot of health and safety issues. When you least expect it, your business could be evacuated. It is better to have a plan of action in place now, so that if an emergency happens it won't be pure chaos trying to figure out what to do. Some emergencies that businesses deal with every year happen for reasons beyond their control, such as:
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Fires
  • Chemical spills
  • Civil disturbances
  • Workplace violence
  • Toxic gas releases
  • Radiological accidents
  • Explosions

They may not be issues that you have to deal with frequently, but they can pack such a powerful punch that not being prepared can lead to much more damage. Since thinking logically during an emergency is usually harder, it is important to have a plan for how to handle emergencies. To do this, work with a few other employees to brainstorm the worst possible events they could see happening at your workplace. Once you get those scenarios down, write a plan on how it could be addressed. Doing this is part of putting together an emergency action plan. The emergency action plan should address any possible emergencies and how your employees should respond.

When creating your emergency action plan, you should include the following:

  • how to report fires and other emergencies
  • what the evaluation policy and procedure is
  • emergency escape routes and procedures, along with building floor plans and maps, as well as marked safe areas
  • the name, title and department of those in your office who should be notified in the event of an emergency
  • procedures on how to perform or shut down plant operations that are critical
  • how to administer emergency rescue measures (e.g., CPR instructions)
  • a designated location where employees should meet after an evacuation

Hazardous Clean-up & Communication

If there are accidents or spills in the workplace, proper clean-up procedures should be followed. Depending on the severity of the clean-up needed and what the material is that needs cleaning, this could mean using gloves, a hazmat suit, a respirator, or even hiring a company to perform the clean-up. If chemicals or other hazardous materials have been spilled, refer to the MSDS to find the recommended route to cleaning it up.
Hazard communication refers to the process of ensuring chemical safety in the workplace. This is done through the proper use of the MSDS, using proper labeling on chemicals, and training the employees. The goal is to communicate to your employees about the hazards and risks that are present and make sure they understand what they are working with, how to prevent injuries and illnesses, and what to do if there is an emergency situation. Good hazard communication is an important step to workplace safety.
Other Workplace Safety Issues

Sometimes the small things in the workplace can amount to big problems if not handled correctly. Since people spend so much time at the computer, it is important that they follow proper safety guidelines to try to minimize the impact and lessen the risks. There are other factors that can contribute to workplace safety hazards as well, such as working the midnight, or graveyard, shift.
Feeling the Fatigue

Fatigue is the feeling of tiredness, exhaustion or lethargy. However, it is not the same as drowsiness, which is having a feeling that you need to sleep. Fatigue is more of lacking motivation and energy and most of us have suffered from it one time or another. There are conditions that can help bring about fatigue, such as allergies, anemia, depression, sleep disorders, and drug use. It can also be brought on by physical exertion and emotional stress. Additionally, some people become fatigued out of boredom and a lack of sleep.

According to a January 2007 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, almost 40 percent of workers in the U.S. experience fatigue. They also reported that this came at a cost of billions of dollars to businesses because of lost productivity. For those employees who feel fatigue, 66 percent of them lose 5.6 hours of productivity, compared to 3.3 hours for their co-workers who do not feel fatigue. Employees who are feeling fatigue may not only be costing a company money due to lost productivity, they may also not be as alert as they should be, which can lead to workplace accidents. If you have employees that are experiencing fatigue, they should speak with a doctor for an evaluation to determine what is causing it and the best route to take to alleviate it. Because fatigue is related to such a loss in productivity, it is important for workplaces to address the issue.

Computer Eye Strain

Computer eye strain can be a very important issue to address at work. The sheer numbers of people who work on computers in the workplace make it a point worth repeating and addressing. Those who use computers intensely can easily suffer from eye strain. While it isn't usually a serious problem, it can be uncomfortable.

The symptoms of eye strain include the eyes feeling dry, sore, or watery. It can also cause headaches, blurred vision, a sore neck, and an increased sensitivity to light. Additionally, eye strain caused from computer use also can lead to trouble shifting the focus from a computer screen to paper, as well as seeing after images when you look away from the computer screen.
To help address eye strain, some people may need to be treated for underlying conditions that can be contributing to it. Others may benefit from wearing prescribed glasses while using the computer. Most people also can benefit from doing eye exercises where you periodically look away from the computer screen and focus on something farther away.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) has become a more common problem in the United States and it costs businesses a lot of money each year. In fact, the problem has led to an average of 23 days per year of time off for those who suffer from it. According to the U.S Department of Labor this amounts to about $2 billion per year. It is estimated that almost 4 percent of the public suffers from the condition in the U.S.

The wrist is made of small bones that form a carpal tunnel, or groove. The median nerve passes through the tunnel from the hand to the forearm. The nerve is responsible for controlling sensations and feelings in the palm side of your fingers and thumb. When there is recurring pressure put on the nerve, it can lead to swelling, tingling, pain, and a loss of strength in the hand and wrist. People can be affected in both hands, while more often it is in their dominant hand.

While some people may be genetically predisposed to the condition, they can get it from pregnancy or a number of other medical conditions. It is often a result of repetitive movements on the job, or in doing some hobbies. Left untreated it can lead to permanent nerve damage.Treatments include rest, so that the person is not doing the repetitive motion for a while, a wrist splint, medication, physical therapy, and surgery. The treatment depends upon the severity of the condition when diagnosed.

To prevent CTS, it is recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that people:

  • Ensure the workspaces are at the correct height and position so that it is comfortable for the person.
  • Take breaks to keep the wrists from swelling.
  • Vary tasks so that you are not doing the same thing all the time.
  • Relax your grip so you are not holding anything tightly, which could cause a strain.
  • Exercise the hands and wrists after using them by doing flexing and bending movements.
  • Keep the muscles warm, even if it means wearing fingerless gloves.
Posture Counts
Millions of people sit in chairs all day at work. While it may sound comforting, the truth is that it can lead to some serious backaches after a while. Having good posture while sitting in an office chair can go a long way toward helping to avoid back pain. Not maintaining good posture can put a strain on muscles and the spine. This can lead to problems with back joints and discs, as well as leading to headaches, fatigue, and neck pain. Good posture is as simple as keeping the body in alignment with its neighboring parts. Having good posture will bring balance to the body so that not just one area is feeling a strain. To address the problem of sitting in an office chair all day, some people get ergonomic office chairs that fit them properly. No matter what type of chair you are in, it is important to take breaks and get up and stretch the muscles periodically.
Working the Midnight Shift
Many people work the midnight shift throughout the country. Whether you refer to it as the graveyard shift, the third shift, or the midnight shift, it can be cause for health concerns. Research has suggested that those on the late shift tend to make more mistakes and may have poorer health. This is because it appears that people on the late shift are often more fatigued, don't eat as healthy, may not exercise regularly, and often drive home when sleepy at the wheel. If someone does have to work the late shift it is important that they maintain a healthy lifestyle in other areas, such as getting enough sleep, down time, eating healthy, and getting enough exercise.