There are many potential risks to a person’s health and safety at work which can vary greatly, depending upon the environment in which the work takes place. The key for all employers is to undertake a thorough Risk Assessment of their own working environment – a careful examination into what could cause harm to people in the workplace.
Controlling potential danger at work is all about recognising the problem, knowing enough about it, deciding what to do and putting the solutions into practice. Here are a number of health and safety issues that employers should make contingencies for:
- Slips and Trips – The most common form of Injury or Accident at Work in which resulting falls can be serious. It’s a particularly important subject, especially if members of the public use your premises. The estimated cost to employers of all these injuries is over £300 million a year and effective solutions are often simple, cheap and lead to other benefits.
- Asbestos – Asbestos is the largest cause of work related ill health and fatal disease in the UK. Almost all asbestos-related deaths and ill health are due to exposure which occurred several decades ago but if you work with asbestos, or come into contact with it during repair and maintenance work, you are at risk. You should avoid working with asbestos if possible, but if not, you must do it safely.
- Hazardous Substances – These can include chemicals that people make or work with directly and also dust, fumes and bacteria which can be present in the workplace. Exposure can occur by breathing them in, contact with the skin, splashing them into your eyes and swallowing them. If exposure is not prevented or properly controlled, serious illness and even death can result.
- Working at Height – Falls from a height account for around 70 fatalities and 4000 major injuries in the workplace each year. One of the main causes is falling from ladders. To prevent falls from height, you should consider the risks to all your workers, ensure they are trained and that they have suitable and safe equipment for the tasks and are properly managed and supervised. You should also ensure that sufficient protection measures (e.g. suitable and sufficient personal protective equipment and clothing) are in place while they are working at height.
- Sprains, Strains and Pains – Many people hurt their back, arms, hands or feet lifting everyday loads and not just when the loads are too heavy. Upper limb disorders (sometimes called ‘repetitive strain injury’ or RSI) are any condition relating to the necks, shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers. They can occur in any workplace where people do repetitive, or forceful, activities in awkward postures for prolonged periods of time. These can cause muscular aches and pains which may only be temporary but, if not properly managed, and the early symptoms aren’t recognised or treated, they can progress to a chronic and disabling disorder. Most cases can be avoided by providing suitable lifting equipment that is regularly maintained and by offering training on both Manual Handling and using the lifting equipment safely.
- Computers and Other Visual Display Units (VDUs) – Using a computer or any other kind of VDU can give rise to Back Problems, repetitive strain injury or other musculo-skeletal disorders. These health problems may become serious if no action is taken. They can be caused by the poor design of work stations and associated equipment such as chairs, insufficient space, lack of training or not taking breaks from display screen work. Working with a screen does not cause eye damage in itself but many users experience temporary eye strain or stress which can result in reduced efficiency or taking time off work.
- Excessive Noise – High Levels of Noise at work can cause hearing loss. It can accumulate over many years and young people can be damaged just as easily as older members of the workforce. It can cause sufferers to be unable to engage in conversation with colleagues and friends which can result in feelings of isolation.
- Vibration – Vibration from working with hand-held power tools, equipment or processes can damage the upper limbs causing ‘hand-arm vibration syndrome’. This is a painful, irreversible condition which includes ‘vibration white finger’ and the effects can be impaired blood circulation, damage to the nerves and muscles and the inability to be able to grip things easily. Back damage can be caused by vibration from a vehicle or machine passing through a seat to the driver’s body through the buttocks, known as ‘whole-body vibration’. This can also be caused by standing on a platform of a vehicle or machine where the vibration passed through the operator’s feet.
- Electrical Risks – Most electrical deaths at work are caused by contact with underground or overhead power cables but electric shocks from faulty equipment can also have other repercussive effects such as falling from ladders or other platforms. Poorly maintained and faulty electrical appliances can also result in the outbreak of fire which can result in the death or injury of others.
- Work Equipment – Any equipment used at work must be right for the job and safe to use. It should also be well maintained and inspected regularly. Training employees to use the equipment correctly is also important. Many serious and, sometimes, fatal, accidents occur each day because equipment is old or faulty or the operator hasn’t been trained to use it correctly or has neglected to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines in how to use it properly.
- Risks From Transport – Every year, about 70 people are killed and over 2500 seriously injured connected to transport in the workplace. These accident range from being struck or run over by moving vehicles, falling from vehicles or vehicles overturning. Vehicles operating in the workplace can include cars and vans, lift trucks, heavy goods vehicles, dumpers, specialised vehicles or plant. Since the operating conditions are different and there is a confined space in which to operate, there is often more danger from vehicles within the workplace than there is on the open road.
- Other Risks – Pressure systems such as boilers, compressors, working with flammable materials like petrol and paint thinners, working with various kinds of radiation, such as X-ray equipment are other areas that can cause potential serious damage to employees.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
No place of work can always be completely safe all the time and whilst some work places present greater risks than others, nowhere is immune to the possibility of an accident or even death. What all work places share is the ability to carry out risk assessment processes and to take all precautionary steps to ensure the safety of the workforce. It is a group collective effort that includes each and every member of the workforce. Employers should always ensure they do the following:
- Provide adequate control of the health and safety risks
- Consult with employees on matters affecting their health and safety
- Provide and maintain safe plant and equipment
- Ensure safe handing and use of substances
- Provide information, instruction, supervision and training so that employees are competent to carry out their role
- Review and revise all these policies regularly
Remember, it’s better to be safe than be sorry.