I have been working in the occupational health and safety profession for nine years and in the beginning, when I thought of workplace hazards, my mind supplied me with images of large equipment, huge machines, and blasting. As time has gone on and I have gained experience, I have determined that the most common injuries come from much smaller type risks that are overlooked. It is the small things; as the saying goes the devil is in the details.
There are huge hazards. Enormous hazards. These are the hazards that grab attention, the dangers that everyone looks for and are aware of. In reality, the most injuries result from small, and some might say inconsequential hazards. These are the hazards that cross sectors and appear in almost every workplace. Due to the vast array of industries that employ large equipment and manual labor some of these larger type safety hazards have made the Top 10 List, but some of the others may surprise you.
Slips, trips, and falls can happen anywhere and may occur individually or all three can happen within the same incident. Slips are most often due to slippery substances or materials on the floor or shoes, or due to a change in the type of flooring from room to room. Trips most often occur due to obstructions in walking areas, unsecured cords in rooms, or uneven floors or walking surfaces. Falls at same level happen usually due to a slip or trip where an employee is unable to correct their balance.
Slips, trips, and falls (at same level) can happen at any workplace regardless of the sector, from heavy industrial sites to offices. In order to manage slip, trip, and fall hazards, employers should keep walking areas clear from obstructions, place mats in high traffic areas subject to weather (such as entrances and exits), and encourage employees to practice good housekeeping and ensuring areas are tidy and free from tripping hazards.
Manual material handling is most often thought of as large loads where employees are working in warehouses or at the docks in more industrial settings. While these settings most definitely qualify as encountering material handling hazards, there are some manual material handling that happens in every workplace, across all sectors.
People who work in smaller shops contend with material handling in the form of parts, boxes of odds and ends, middling to heavy tools, and moving storage items around.
Even office jobs around an industrial site often encounter materials handling daily in their workplace tasks. Carrying reams of blank paper for photocopy machines, shifting desks and filing cabinets, carrying multiple large binders and building site plans are all part of material handling.
Managing material handling risks can take the form of teaching employees correct material handling postures, using trolleys, and encouraging employees to use tandem lifts when items are too heavy or cumbersome for one person and mechanical means are not available.
Violence and harassment towards employees by customers, visitors, and other employees can constitute a significant risk within the workplace. Violence and harassment cause a large number of reportable incidents and can be employed as tactics by supervisors to take advantage of, or teach a lesson to, employees who report to them. Violent and harassing behaviors not only constitute a workplace risk but are also legislated as unacceptable. The definition of workplace violence and harassment is the threat of violence or actual violent acts committed towards another person at the workplace. This includes threats of violence, intimidation, insults, belittling, workplace sabotage and promotion blocking, physical violence, physical assaults, and homicide. Harassment is continual unwelcome behaviors, sexual or obnoxious, centered upon another person.
Implementing a no tolerance violence and harassment policy and training all levels of personnel in identification and prevention of violence and harassment is the best way to ensure employee safety. It is important to ensure that a whistleblower protection policy is implemented as well, to ensure personnel who report violence and harassment are protected from adverse repercussions.
Most workplaces use chemical products in one form or another, some chemicals are used in industrial settings for product manufacturing while others are used to clean and maintain working spaces. Most chemicals used in workplaces present some form of risk.
Industrial settings often use highly corrosive or poisonous chemicals in product manufacture or treatment, while the offices use them for janitorial purposes.
Regardless of the setting and use, chemicals must be treated with respect and employers must provide employees with the product Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), personal protective equipment (PPE), training to effectively utilize the MSDS’, safe use of the chemical product, and the proper and safe use of the PPE required.
The use of tools, both hand and powered, constitute a large risk in any industrial setting, construction site, or manufacturing facility. All employees should be trained in tool safety with regular safety talks regarding proper tool use. Appropriate gloves should always be worn, and tool guards should never be removed for any reason. Convenience and productivity are not adequate reasons for an employee to lose fingers or limbs.
Machines and machinery have improved efficiency and process in the workplace, but this improvement comes with new risks to employees. Moving parts, capacity to pinch and crush fingers, hands, and other appendages, sharp or hot parts, and noise introduce new hazards that must be controlled.
It is important to ensure that employees are trained in the safe operation of any equipment they will be required to use and be trained in working safely in proximity to machines that operate in the area.
Employees should also be trained in using appropriate PPE required for the operation of machines in the area. For example, employees who use workstation overhead cranes in their work should know when and how to properly use a hard hat.
Working at heights is considered any jobs taking place where the worker can face a fall of 3 feet (1m) or higher in walkway areas or 9 feet (3m) or higher on scaffolding and ladders etc. This includes work in areas such as loading docks, using scissor lifts and other aerial platforms, ladders, scaffolding, rooftop work, or holes in the work area floor.
Where the fall hazard is located along a walkway area, guardrails are recommended in order to prevent workers from falling. When the fall is 9 feet or higher fall protection equipment and systems are required.
When any working at heights tasks must be completed the following protective mechanisms should be in place:
Emergency response plan
Fall protection plan
Inspection tag usage for ladders scaffolds and other equipment used in the process
Safe work procedure
Only trained workers completing work at heights
Driving motor vehicles and other mobile machinery constitute an enormous risk within industrial workplaces. Workers are often required to drive from job to job or they are required to operate powered vehicles such as forklifts and wheel loaders at the worksite. Employers should ensure that all personnel operating vehicles and mobile machinery are licensed in the operation of, trained in procedures and safe work practices, and have completed a competency evaluation by a qualified supervisor.
When an employee is working alone, they can be vulnerable in situations where they are separated from communications devices or unable to use their communication device. The risks when working alone can include:
Slips, trips, and falls
Injuries from tools and equipment
Violence and harassment with no back up around
All other common incidents magnified by isolation and the possibility that communication is not possible.
In order to reduce the risks associated with working alone, employers should implement a working alone communications policy to ensure that employees who fail to check-in are missed and aide is dispatched.
Identify the possible hazards and risks an employee will face while working alone depending on the tasks and area the employee is working in and develop a communications procedure for each case and train employees to effectively implement and use the working alone procedure.
An often-overlooked element when identifying hazards is the complacency that happens when personnel become adept and efficient at their jobs. They can begin to complete tasks automatically without actively thinking about hazard identification, verification and control. Complacency can also come into play when nothing bad has happened or almost happened. Without even realizing it, employees can start to believe that since they have never been injured or had an incident they won’t. This is when elementary precautions such as gloves, safety glasses, locking devices, and machine and tool guards are removed.
In order to combat complacency, employers can use a variety of tools including safety or toolbox talks, inspections, and a buddy system where teams of employees work together to hold each other accountable to working safely.