Whether you’re working at heights or working in an office, every single workplace has its share of hazards. Even ours does and we spend every hour of every day talking about health and safety at work!
However, just because there are hazards doesn’t mean you should be complacent. In fact, by actively identifying and preparing for hazards in your workplace, you’ll be much better prepared for when accidents do happen. Ultimately, that will mean you can
In this blog, I’ll look at six super common workplace hazards that you’ve probably never noticed but that can cause real trouble if left unchecked.
#1 Poor housekeeping
Poor housekeeping is more than just an eyesore. In fact, if it gets out of hand, it can get downright dangerous.
Say you leave a delivery sitting in the corridor and it blocks a fire escape. What are you going to do if a fire does break out?
When things do go wrong, it’s not exactly a great time to potter about tidying stuff away!
Both employers and employees have a part to play in fixing housekeeping hazards. As they say, it takes two to tango and two to systematically reduce workplace safety hazards.
(Okay, I’m not entirely convinced they say the second one but you get the point.)
Going back to the delivery that’s blocking the fire escape. Well, who signed for it? Why didn’t that person ensure it was stored in the proper place? If the designated storage area wasn’t available, why didn’t they they alert their manager? These are tasks they should have taken on themselves.
A lot of housekeeping tasks don’t really require a dedicated housekeeping team. What they do need is your whole team to be switched on and alert to possible risks.
Not all hazards are obvious and sinister like frayed wires and slippery steps. Some hazards are subtle, hiding in the background and silently hurting your team.
Chief among the subtle threats are ergonomic hazards, which essentially includes any physical factor in your environment that hurts your body. Cheap office chairs, poor lighting, invasive noise and poor temperature management are all examples of common ergonomic hazards.
One of the main problems with ergonomic hazards is that they don’t have an immediate effect on you and that makes them super tricky to identify. After all, how do you spot a problem if you can’t see any effects?
What you should do is take a proactive approach. Ergonomics is all about changing your environment to reduce the wear and tear on your body so you don’t need to wait for things to go wrong.
Simple ergonomic fixes can have a huge impact on your staff members’ health.
A couple of quick examples include varying your tasks to reduce repetitive movements, integrating breaks to give your body time to recover, training staff in the most efficient way of working and providing equipment and furniture that is designed to complement the human body.
#3 Slips, trips and falls
You know the most common type of injury in UK workplaces? Lifting? Nope. Electrical? Nope. It is, in fact, slips, trips and falls (STF).
You see, humans are essentially long, skinny and upright animals with a reasonably high centre of gravity. While our balance is generally pretty good, we’re prone to falling over when the underfoot conditions aren’t perfect.
Uneven floors, wet surfaces, trailing cables, forgotten boxes, unexpected level changes, poor lighting, the causes of STF injuries are basically endless. If caught unaware, even the slightest cause can whip your feet out from under you faster than than you can say Wooooah.
STF accidents will inevitably happen but you can take simple steps to make your workplace as safe as possible for your employees.
For example, clean up spills as quickly as possible, clearing away equipment whenever possible, improve your lighting (you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes) and insisting on proper slip-resistant footwear.
One last little interesting snippet. In the US, STF injuries are actually the second most common type of workplace injury after overexertion injuries. Do Americans work harder than us? Or maybe we’re just hard as nails?
Will you turn that music down!? Okay, unless you work with Spinal Tap the odd bit of office music probably won’t count as a workplace hazard.
However, noise is a serious hazard in some workplaces.
Excessive noise can cause permanent damage to your hearing. Hearing loss can either take place progressively over a long period or, if the noise is exceptionally loud and sudden, instantly.
Helpfully, the HSE gives some guidance on noise levels. For example, employers must provide hearing protection and hearing protection zones when workplace noise reaches 85 decibels. That’s around about the sound of a passing train at 15m.
There’s also an exposure limit value of 87 decibels, which includes the reduction granted by hearing protection. Employees must not be exposed to noise above this level.
#5 First aid training
Unfortunately, many businesses think that a first aid kit is a suitable replacement for a trained first aider. First aid kits can actually be more of a hindrance than a help. For example, if there is no appointed first-aider, untrained individuals often attempt to help.
Since 1981, businesses have been required to provide ‘adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work.’
However, what counts as adequate and appropriate will depend on your workplace. A timber yard, for example, will have radically different requirements than a call centre.
It is essential you assessment your first-aid needs before someone requires help to ensure you can provide adequate assistance. That could mean having a certain number of staff trained in first aid and ensuring that staff training is up-to-date.
Also, another common problem is that first aid kits are treated like a bottomless bag of medical goodies. If you take something out of the kit, it’s essential that it gets replaced. It’s a good idea to check kits frequently as people will inevitably forget report things they have used.
#6 Working alone
Lone workers face a range of hazards that they wouldn’t if they worked in a team.
In 2016, for example, a security guard named Javaid Iqbal died from carbon monoxide poisoning after he lit some barbecue coals in an attempt to stay warm. This tragedy might have been avoided if someone was working with Mr Iqbal and noticed he had collapsed.
Whilst it’s legal, and sometimes necessary, for employees to work alone, employers must assess whether working alone puts them at a higher risk.
If you have employees working alone, there are some simple precautions you can take to minimise risks. For example, regular checks, automatic warning devices and appropriate communication processes.
The flip side is that lone workers are also responsible for their own health and safety. Lone workers must follow their employer’s safety and health procedures and report any accidents, injuries, near misses and inadequate equipment to their employers.