Preventing workplace hazards and occupational health hazards

It's critical to carefully consider how to eliminate or control occupational health hazards to help your employees avoid injury or illness. It also lessens your risk of financial consequences through workers' compensation if such a problem does occur. It's far better to address these risks proactively, rather than after an accident occurs.

But how do you identify, control and reduce the risk of these hazards?

 

Create a workplace hazards preparedness plan

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lays out a plan that starts with involving your workers, often the people who best understand the situations that are creating hazards. They also may have valuable insights into how such hazards can be controlled.1

OSHA features a hierarchy of controls and suggests employers select the ones that are most feasible, effective and permanent. The hierarchy starts with the most effective steps: elimination (physically removing the hazard); substitution (replacing the hazard); engineering controls (isolating people from the hazard); administrative controls (changing the way people work); and personal protective equipment (protecting the worker with the equipment).1

Chemical spills

Any business that stores, uses or transports hazardous materials is at risk of a chemical spill and must have a spill action plan on hand. This should include how to report an emergency, how to activate alarms to notify employees and list evacuation procedures, among other steps.2 It is essential to reduce the risk of spills beforehand as much as possible. Some of the best practices to avoid these workplace hazards include storing chemicals in covered areas on secured shelves that have raised edges or "lips." Don't store them above eye level. Regularly check containers for leaks or signs of deterioration.3

 

Tripping hazards

OSHA lumps these hazards together as slips, trips and falls, and they account for about 15 percent of all occupational deaths, second only to motor vehicle accidents. The key here is to first recognize the tripping hazards in your workplace. They come in many guises, including cluttered work areas, poor visibility, wet floors, worn stairs, failure to use handrails, and materials and cords lying on the floor where people walk. Go down the list and eliminate these hazards.4

 

Asbestos

This sturdy, heat-resistant mineral fiber was formerly often used in pipe insulation, building materials, floor tiles and more. Now asbestos is known to cause disability, cancer and death, and so it is highly regulated. High exposure (there is no safe level of exposure) can happen during demolition and rebuilding. OSHA standards for asbestos in general industry and construction require employers to assess asbestos levels, mark off regulated areas, post signage, use engineering control such as ventilation systems with HEPA filters, and utilize other ways of reducing levels of asbestos in the air.5

 

Other airborne diseases

Airborne infections can spread through workplaces like wildfire, and one outbreak of influenza could decimate your workforce for weeks. And it's not only the flu. In one year, the U.S. saw more than 48,000 cases of pertussis (also called whooping cough) and almost 10,000 cases of tuberculosis. Other occupational health hazards include airborne infections such as strep and the highly contagious norovirus.6

Create an infection control program, and you can improve the chances of your workplace avoiding widespread outbreaks of influenza and the like. Require your employees to report to you when they have been diagnosed with an infectious disease, too, and educate them about travel overseas where they might come into contact with infectious diseases.6

There are also respirators that can keep infected workers from spreading the infection to another worker (as well as his or her family). NIOSH-approved respirators filter out pathogens, bacteria and virus.6

For small businesses that don't have the budget or knowledge to conduct an extensive, careful safety check on their site and systems, there are free resources. Some fire insurance and workers' compensation insurance carriers offer complimentary inspections, for instance.7

OSHA also does confidential, on-site consultations and its inspectors do not issue citations or penalties if they find violations. Last year, OSHA conducted about 26,000 of these consultations.7

1."UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR." Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Accessed August 09, 2018. https://www.osha.gov/shpguidelines/hazard-prevention.html
2. "Emergency Spill Response." The Safety Record. Accessed August 09, 2018. https://safety.grainger.com/people/emergency-spill-response
3. "Top Tips for Preventing Chemical Spills in the Workplace." Safeopedia. April 10, 2017. Accessed August 13, 2018. https://www.safeopedia.com/top-tips-for-preventing-chemical-spills-in-the-workplace/2/5561
4. "Trip Hazards Do's and Don'ts." EHS Daily Advisor. March 03, 2017. Accessed August 09, 2018. https://ehsdailyadvisor.blr.com/2009/03/trip-hazards-do-s-and-don-ts/
5. Asbestos: Worker and Employer Guide to Hazards and Recommended Controls.Report. June 2015. Accessed August 08, 2018.https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/asbestos_508.pdf
6. Friedlander, Jamie. "Keeping Pathogens Out of the Workplace." Occupational Health & Safety. Accessed August 09, 2018. https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2014/04/01/Keeping-Pathogens-Out-of-the-Workplace.aspx
7. Morrison, Kyle W. "7 Common Workplace Safety Hazards." Safety Health Magazine RSS. July 30, 2018. Accessed August 09, 2018. https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/14054-common-workplace-safety-hazards