Workplace Health and Safety
Desiree Tibbs, Occupational Health Program Coordinator
Occupational Health Program, Coordinator
Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital
1200 Westwood Drive
Hamilton, MT 59840
Workplace Health and Safety
You don't need to work surrounded by combustible materials to face
serious health and safety risks. Whether it's a failure to protect
your workers against toxic fumes, back strains or a sleep-deprived employee
getting into a fatal car accident on the drive to work, every job comes
with potential hazards. Workplace health and safety hazards can be costly
(to lives and the bottom line), but the good news is that they are largely
preventable if you take the right precautions.
Common workplace health and safety hazards include: communicable disease,
transportation accidents, repetitive motion and ergonomic injuries, hearing
loss, workplace violence, slipping and falling, chemical and gas exposure,
getting struck by objects, electrocution or explosion. Although some hazards
are less likely to happen in some work spaces than others, it's important
to assess which hazards are most damaging to your business and your employees.
Some may pose more serious threats to employee welfare, and others will
result in the most time lost or be the most costly. What these setbacks
have in common is that thorough planning can prevent many of them.
The go-to resource for the legal requirements in your particular industry
is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the arm of
the federal government that enforces health and safety laws. Staying on
OSHA's good side and protecting your employees isn't so challenging.
What they're asking employers to do, among other things, is look at
the risk factors in your business and work out where your problems are.
While they aren't usually budget-breakers, many precautions against
hazards obviously have a higher initial cost, but as the old saying goes,
"It's better to be safe than sorry."
There are two main types of general preparation employers can take against
health and safety hazards in the workplace: job hazard analysis and risk
mapping. These approaches share an element of stepping back and examining
your procedures and facilities with eyes unclouded by routine and alert
to potential danger.
Job hazard analysis is when you look at how a job is done and what sorts
of equipment people are interacting with. They tend to be things that
you can look at very objectively and see where your protection and prevention
needs to be.
Risk mapping is a similar process but it involves examining liabilities
by examining your physical workplace and facilities rather than considering
the habits and duties of your employees. Combining both of these tools
can prevent many accidents at work.
Maintaining your workforce
Things that affect large portions of the workforce really affect small
and medium sized businesses more than large businesses. The most prominent
hazard is communicable diseases such as colds and the flu, and the reason
they can knock out such large portions of your workforce depends partly
on our society's working culture. Many businesses run short staffed
on a consistent basis. This leads to employees becoming overly tired,
this in turn makes them more likely to get sick and or have a serious accident.
Having adequate staffing gives employees the chance to take time off when
they are sick. It also allows employees to safely complete tasks that
require more than one person rather than attempting them on their own
resulting in injury.
It is also important to cross train employees, so that no one person becomes
critical to your operation. This can cost employers some additional effort
and money but it is important for employers to look at the long term savings
rather than the short term cost.
When it comes to non-fatal workplace injuries, the clear leaders are incidents
of ergonomic problems and overexertion. They affect a multitude of industries.
Because these injuries can give rise to chronic
conditions, they result in one of the higher rates of lost work time.
Experts advise that employees at computer workstations sit at a height
that allows their legs to reach the ground; they should have a wrist rest,
and not need to crane their neck, eyes, or back in the extreme. It's
important to have lumbar support and if your office chairs don't have
this built in, you or your employees can purchase cushions that will provide
that extra lower back support. Ergonomic injuries don't only take
place when there is older office equipment with fewer adjustable parts.
They can also happen simply from sitting at your desk for too long.
In addition to the wear and tear of the workplace itself on employees'
bodies, lifting heavy objects such as boxes of paper or files can result
in accidents. Good lifting technique is often ignored when there is insufficient
space or time to get a job done properly.
In a manufacturing setting, hearing loss is a common problem that can
creep up on you and your employees but that is easily preventable. Simply
provide headphones or earplugs that cancel out high decibel levels, depending
on what volume of noise the equipment in your office environment produce.
But providing the equipment is not enough, you need to enforce the policy
and make sure your employees are using all the protective gear.
Chemical spills are more common in some workplaces then others. Developing
a Spill Response Plan is the key to proper management of these injuries.
Having personal protection equipment on hand and training employees how
to use it is important and often overlooked.
Workplace Violence -- If you look at the data on workplace violence easily
three quarters or more are robbery. Consequently, regulating bodies advises
examining where employees are exchanging or guarding money, interacting
with the public, working alone or in small groups in the late or early
hours of the day. Take steps to make sure the area around your workplace
is well-lit and if possible install security cameras.
Falls -- The falls that result in fatalities tend to be in industries
such as construction or landscaping. This is a case where training your
employees in safety procedures and periodically evaluating their understanding
and execution of those procedures is the most useful course of action.
Additionally providing equipment precautions such as guardrails, safety
harnesses and rope and pulley supports when possible is also a good idea.
Employee Education and Awareness
A businesses human resources department can do a lot to reduce workplace
accidents simply by educating employees. But you need to go beyond informing
employees. A lot of the standards that are in place do require training
of one sort or another and some sort of documentation that the person
was trained. Following up with employees to make sure the training sank
in and is being incorporated into their daily responsibilities is also
crucial. It often falls by the wayside because it is time consuming and
can be cumbersome.
An Occupational Health team can be helpful in this area. A team consists
of multiple health care professional s working to assess the abilities
of a company's workforce. Not only do they help with pre-employment
requirements and work place injuries but they can help companies implement
proper training techniques as well as working with them on a continuing
basis to help maintain overall
Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please
contact Desiree Tibbs, Program Coordinator at Marcus Daly Occupational
Health Services, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together
to build a healthier community!