Health & Safety Hazards at Work
- Workplace physical hazards include heat, cold, vibration and high noise. Working at heights on roofs, ladders or scaffolding creates a risk of falling. Working in confined spaces carries a risk of asphyxiation. Workers can be struck by equipment or become entangled in machinery. Other equipment-related hazards include risk of electrical shock or exposure to harmful radiation such as with X-rays, lasers and radio-frequency energy. Improper lifting technique can cause back injuries, while just working at a computer for long periods can result in repetitive stress injuries. Simple housekeeping problems, such as spilled coffee on the floor, can cause a serious injury from a slip and fall. The most common cause of work-related injury is driving. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, highway incidents were the leading cause of workplace fatalities in 2006.
- Many jobs require the use of hazardous chemicals. These chemicals may be toxic, flammable, corrosive or reactive. Some are extremely dangerous, causing harm at very low doses, while others allow a greater exposure without causing physical harm. Health effects can manifest quickly (acute exposure) or over a long period of time (chronic exposure).
- Many substances are harmful when inhaled. This includes substances such as asbestos, chemical solvents, metal fumes and dusts. Some individuals react adversely to certain types of mold found in the workplace. In addition, although many workplaces restrict smoking, secondhand smoke is still a potential respiratory hazard.
- Medical and clinical laboratory workers handle potentially infectious bodily fluids and cultures. Medical professionals are exposed to sick and potentially infectious individuals. If workplace cafeterias do not follow proper food-handling protocols, their products can cause food-related illnesses. Virtually all workers are exposed to sick co-workers occasionally, increasing the risk of transmission of illnesses such as influenza and the common cold.
Stress and Violence
- Increasingly, stress is surfacing as a workplace hazard. Worker reaction to long work hours, layoff fears and work pressures can manifest as tangible illnesses such as ulcers, high blood pressure and heart attacks. Worker stress can also spill over into violence. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace violence was the third leading cause of workplace fatalities in 2006.
- Employers can implement measures to control these workplace hazards in order to enhance worker safety. Safety controls such as guards, interlocks and safe operating procedures control physical hazards. Personal protective clothing protects workers against chemical and biological hazards. Employers may also develop safe driver training and violence prevention programs to minimize these risks