Workplace hazards can sneak up on you, especially those that aren’t obvious, or take time to result in poor health or injury. Since they don’t pose an immediate threat, they’re easy to overlook. It’s important to regularly check on these sneaky dangers.
Get Workers Involved
Before we get started with specific potential workplace hazards to keep an eye on, it’s important to note that employee involvement is critical for these efforts to be successful. A safety manager or safety team can’t take care of this checklist of duties without help.
Getting employees involved reduces strain on management and empowers staff to have agency over their own well-being. This is an important part of creating a strong safety culture.
If workers are well educated about workplace hazards examples, and are in the habit of regularly checking on them, they’ll also be better equipped to spot, hear, or smell other possible hazards. They can be the eyes, ears, and noses in the areas management may not often get to.
To keep potential workplace hazards fresh in workers’ minds, consider covering them briefly in a safety moment or toolbox talk.
Workplace Hazards: What Are They?
When discussing workplace safety, it’s useful to clarify what constitutes a safety hazard. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety provides a good general workplace hazards definition: “There are many definitions for hazard, but the most common definition when talking about workplace health and safety is: A hazard is any source of potential damage, harm or adverse health effects on something or someone.”
Hidden dangers, and those that take time to cause harm, are just as critical to address as those that are more obvious. They all have the potential to cause health issues.
1. Breath the Air, Smell the Air
Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can lead to a host of health issues including headaches, eye irritation, rashes, sinus and respiratory problems, and worse.
While OSHA doesn’t have IAQ standards, it does offer general guidelines on the subject: “The qualities of good IAQ should include comfortable temperature and humidity, adequate supply of fresh outdoor air, and control of pollutants from inside and outside of the building.”
Employees can help monitor this hazard by being mindful of the causes of poor IAQ. Major contributors include the following:
- Poor HVAC quality or maintenance
- Toxic cleaners and air fresheners
- Temperatures that are too hot or too cold
- Construction or renovation dust
- Dampness and mold
- Outdoor traffic exhaust and smoke
- Off-gassing from carpets, paint, and furniture
Employees should also take note of any unpleasant smells, visible leaks, or water spots, and record any health symptoms that could be associated with poor IAQ.
2. Wipe It Down
Studies show that offices are full of bacteria. But how bad could it be, really? Ready for this? “The average desk contains 400 times more germs than a toilet seat, new research has revealed,” states a March 2018 story in the UK’s Independent. “The research revealed that more than two-thirds of office workers are at risk of sickness due to dirty desks.”
The desk phone features the highest density of illness-inducers, but the entire desk surface can get pretty gross, too. Your keyboard and mouse are also popular bacteria congregation spots. So is the office kitchen, including the water tap and any objects frequently touched by multiple people.
A 2017 Time article revealed that cells phones have ten time more bacteria than a toilet seat. And speaking of toilets, the story notes that taking your phone into the bathroom with you can result in it picking up loads of gross nasties. Don’t do it.
Don’t forget about viruses, which can spread throughout an office within hours, reports Today. Once again, popular contamination zones are in communal areas like the office kitchen or breakroom on objects that people frequently touch, like coffee pot handles and microwave ovens.
“The hand was really quicker than the sneeze in the spread of disease,” says Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona in Tucson, as quoted by Today.
Hands are the primary culprit in spreading germs. So wash them, often. And be especially diligent about disinfecting all surfaces, public and personal, that are touched often. During times when sicknesses are going around, get to it more frequently.
3. Proper Ergonomics: Move Well in Your Workplace
Ergonomics is a well-known concept, but it still “hides” in our complacency to address it thoroughly. So, it’s fitting to include in this workplace hazards list. Yes, we know we should have our work stations set up so they don’t cause undue strain. Yes, we know we should lift objects properly. Yes, good posture, it’s important. And yes, we know we should move and stretch throughout the day.
But, the reality is, repetitive motion and improper lifting and bending are still some of the most common causes of injury in the workplace. This hazard warrants ongoing attention.
This short but comprehensive video covers the basics:
As noted, ergonomics isn’t just about making your workstation fit properly, or having a fancy keyboard. It’s about positioning and moving your entire body in the healthiest, least fatiguing way—at all times.
To address poor ergonomics, workers need to be trained about proper lifting and movement techniques and what good posture is, absolutely. They should check their own work areas and tools and make sure to alert management of anything that causes strain or pain, or is overly tiring.
At Slice, we’ve long recognized the importance of proper ergonomic design to reduce fatigue. That is why all of our tools are designed to have a natural grip and require natural movements.
In particular, see the Smart-Retracting Utility Knife with Ergo-Pull™: the user pulls and holds the slider back to keep the blade exposed, so the force on the slider and cutting effort are in the same direction. Additionally, the position of the slider, when engaged, results in a solid, balanced grip with less rotational hand strain, whereas traditional designs rotate the hand awkwardly.
Addressing ergonomics pays off. Electric carmaker Tesla redoubled its efforts to improve safety recently, and improving ergonomics was key among their efforts because that was a major source of injuries. The company reports vast safety improvements as a result of these efforts.
In addition to reporting physically stressful workstations and tools, your staff can take matters into their own hands by being mindful about how they move, stand, and sit. Posted notes in their work area with reminders can help. Workers can also set a timer to buzz every twenty to thirty minutes to remind them to move or rest, and stretch.
Stay Aware, Stay Consistent to Stay Healthy and Safe
Addressing these and other common hazards isn’t complicated, it just takes some awareness and consistency. To avoid these lurking workplace hazards, educate your workforce about how to detect and avoid them, and implement routine procedures to ensure that these hazards don’t go into hiding again.
How can I successfully implement new safety initiatives?
How do I get buy-in from management and workers?
What’s the best way to build trust and rapport?
Should EHS be a C-Suite position?
We explore these questions and more on the Safety Labs by Slice podcast. Check us out using the links below.