There are many potential risks to a person’s health and safety at work. Examples of risk in the workplace vary depending on the work environment. The key for all employers is to undertake a thorough Risk Assessment. To help with this process we have identified the 12 most common risks at work.
The Risk of Workplace Accidents is High
During 2019/20 693,000 workers suffered non fatal accidents in UK workplaces. 168,000 of these were serious enough to require more than 7 days off work to recover.Source: Non Fatal Injuries at Work in Great Britain, UK HSE.
It’s important that once risks have been identified, the workplace should put measures in place to reduce the risks in the to protect workers.
12 Common Examples of Risk in the Workplace
Here’s 12 health and safety issues that employers should be aware of. These examples of risk in the workplace can be used to make plans as part of a risk assessment:
Slips and Trips
The most common risk of Injury or Accident at Work. Falls after slips and trips can be serious. It’s a very important topic, especially if members of the public are visiting. The estimated cost to employers of injuries is over £300 million a year. Effective solutions are often simple, cheap, and lead to other benefits.
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 can include chemicals that people make or work with directly. Dust, fumes and bacteria can also be present in the workplace. Exposure can happen through inhalation, skin contact, and chemicals being splashed into the eyes or accidentally swallowed. 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 risks is falling from ladders. To prevent falls from height, you should ensure workers are trained and that they have suitable and safe equipment, and are properly managed and supervised. You should also ensure that enough protection measures are in place while they are working at height. For example suitable personal protective equipment and clothing.
Sprains, Strains and Pains
Many people hurt their back, arms, hands or feet lifting everyday loads. This is not just when the loads are too heavy, but also if incorrect lifting techniques are used. Upper limb disorders, sometimes called ‘repetitive strain injury’ or RSI are any condition relating to the necks, shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers. They can happen 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 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 poor design of work stations and other equipment such as chairs. Lack of space, limited training or not taking breaks from display screen work are also risk factors. 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.
High Levels of Noise at work can cause hearing loss. It can happen over many years and young people can be damaged just as easily as older members of the workforce. Sufferers can become unable to engage in conversation with colleagues and friends, which can result in feelings of isolation.
Vibration from working with hand-held power tools or equipment can damage the upper limbs causing ‘hand-arm vibration syndrome’. This is a painful, irreversible condition which includes ‘vibration white finger’. 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. This is known as ‘whole-body vibration’. It can also be caused by standing on a platform of a vehicle or machine where the vibration passes through the operator’s feet.
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 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.
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 happen because equipment is old or faulty. The operator can also use it incorrectly or not follow the manufacturer’s guidelines resulting in unsafe use.
Risks From Transport
Every year, about 70 people are killed and over 2500 seriously injured in incidents connected to transport in the workplace. These accidents 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 risk from vehicles within the workplace than there is on the open road.
Other Examples of Risks in the Workplace
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 completely eliminate risk. But it should be reduced as much as possible. Some workplaces present greater risks than others, but nowhere is immune to the possibility of an accident or even death.
Every workplace has the ability to carry out risk assessments and to take precautionary steps to ensure the safety of the workforce. Every member of the workforce has a responsibilty to minimise risk in the workplace. 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.
See our guide on conducting a workplace risk assessment for a framework to to put these examples of risk in the workplace to proper use.