A Guide to Safety and Health at Work

A Guide to Safety and Health at Work

People need to work in order to make a living, but in doing so, they face a staggering number of potential health and safety hazards. Many of these dangers are obvious, such as burns, falls, and vehicle collisions, but there are also a large variety of subtle threats that can lead to health problems, such as repetitive strain injuries and stress. Employers have a strong incentive to mitigate and prevent these issues from arising in the workplace due to the fact that some problems can lead to higher workers' compensation insurance premiums in the event of an on-the-job injury. Workers, however, also have a responsibility to take charge of their own safety to ensure that their work environment is safe. In addition, they should also take steps to be healthy and in good physical shape.

Fatigue is an extremely dangerous hazard in some work environments. Risks associated with construction work or driving, for example, are higher when fatigue is a factor, as people are generally more likely to make a mistake that results in an accident when they are tired. Being tired dulls the mind, making it more difficult to concentrate, make correct decisions, or respond in a timely manner to an emerging threat. Lack of quality sleep and certain medications are obvious culprits, but poor lighting, malnutrition, or even boredom can also contribute to the problem. To fight workplace fatigue, employees should get a full night's sleep before work, break up long or repetitive tasks, pull over and take rests during long drives, and work under proper lighting. Workers should also avoid consuming tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine before bedtime. Workplace distractions can also result in equally devastating consequences. Use of electronic devices while driving or operating machinery is usually illegal and must be avoided. And individuals who are working under pressure to meeting production goals must use caution and stay focused on safety as opposed to speed or other concerns. In general, concern for safety must always be at the front of any employee's mind in potentially hazardous work environments.

Other serious threats lurk in workplaces that often go unnoticed until an injury occurs. For instance, heat stroke and dehydration often strike in hot or outdoor work environments, such as farms. Workers in environments where heavy exertion is the norm should take water breaks or carry water bottles with them and take in at least five ounces of water every 20 minutes. Even in indoor workplaces, employees should consume at least eight glasses of water every day.

Disease is a major threat that can result in injuries, illness, and hospitalization. Everyone, whether they are working in a hospital, restaurant, or office setting, should wash their hands on their way out of the bathroom, before handling food, or after touching potentially contaminated items. Wiping down shared items, such as telephones and keyboards, can also help reduce the risk of illness. Workers who are suffering from the flu or a cold should take time off from work, as they increase the odds of infecting other employees if they come in.

Slips and falls are another major cause of injuries in nearly any work environment and are often caused by wet or slick surfaces or objects being where they don't belong. In the case of a spill, it should be cleaned up and a warning sign placed on the affected floor area to warn others. Clutter should also be kept off of the floors, as should any item that may cause an individual to trip and fall.

Outbreaks of fires and the burn injuries they cause are a deadly hazard that comes from a multitude of causes. Depending on the type of workplace, potential fire hazards may include anything from faulty wiring and electrical shorts to open flames or full grease traps in restaurant kitchens. Employees should shut down computers and other office equipment if they smell something burning or hear the buzz of an electrical short. If walls feel hot to the touch, particularly near outlets, it should be reported immediately. In restaurants, employees should avoid wearing loose clothing near flames and keep their hair tied back to prevent them from catching fire. Additionally, to avoid starting a fire that could result in burns or worse, employees should clean grease traps regularly. In general, all workers should know what office policies and safeguards are in place to help prevent avoidable injuries from occurring, where fire extinguishers are located, and what should be done in the event of an emergency.

Physical activity during working hours offers significant benefits for employees, as exercise increases the mind's ability to focus on tasks, improves a person's energy levels, and reduces the risk of exhaustion and burnout. Riding a bicycle to work is one beneficial form of physical activity, as is visiting the gym during lunch breaks. Employees can also bring small items to work such as resistance bands and small hand weights, which can be used for brief workouts during shorter breaks. Workers who spend long periods in chairs should take some time to stand up, which will help to improve blood circulation and cut down on muscle tightness and soreness.

Strain injuries are another subtle hazard that people face when performing certain jobs. This is a slowly developing issue that can lead to disability due to reduced functionality of the wrists and hands or debilitating pain in the neck, shoulders, or back. To prevent these issues, it is necessary for employees to practice good ergonomics strategies, such as maintaining proper posture while sitting or working in front of a computer and asking their employer for supportive equipment such as keyboard wrist support pads, footrests, or headsets. Taking breaks and breaking up long and repetitive tasks with activities that do not strain the hands or joints is also recommended.

For more information about staying safe and healthy in the workplace, see these resources:
• Tips to Reduce and Manage Job and Workplace Stress (PDF) 
• Exercise in the Workplace 
• Office Exercise: Add More Activity to Your Workday 
• 10 Deskercises You Can Do at Work 
• Exercising at Your Desk (PDF) 
• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) 
• Back Injury Prevention 
• Distracted on the Job 
• Shoulder Injury Prevention Fact Sheet (PDF) 
• Back Injury Prevention Guide for Health-Care Providers (PDF) 
• Eight Ways to Stay Healthy at Work 
• Ten Tips to Improve Your Health at Work 
• Nine Ways Employees Can Stay Healthy at Work 
• Sprains and Strains Prevention Toolbox (PDF) 
• When to Wash Hands at the Workplace 
• Food Service Safety (PDF) 
• Identifying Workplace Hazards (PDF) 
• Repetitive Strain Injury: How to Prevent, Identify, and Manage RSI 
• The Germiest Things in the Workplace 
• Employee and Workplace Safety: How to Identify and Avoid Common Risks and Dangers 
• The Dangers of Fatigue in the Workplace 
• Preventing Dehydration in the Workplace (PDF) 
• Heat Stress in the Workplace 
• Burn Prevention: Putting Safety First 
• Knife Handling and Safety (PDF)