Ideally, there should be no safety hazards in a workplace, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.
Here are some common workplace safety hazards to avoid.
Everyone has the right to be safe in the workplace, whether your working day is spent behind a desk or performing physically demanding tasks.
Your employer is responsible for ensuring that you can do your job without fear of being hurt physically, emotionally or psychologically.
Here are 10 common workplace safety hazards to watch out for.
Slips and trips
Tripping hazards are among the most common risks in Australian workplaces, which is unfortunate considering how easy they are to prevent.
Although accidents happen, your employer can enforce a few simple steps to ensure minimal slipping and tripping hazards.
Depending on the hazards in your workplace, these steps could include:
- Ensuring spills are cleaned up immediately, with hazard signs readily available to alert people to the danger;
- Immediately fixing any uneven flooring;
- Enforcing rules that state all equipment (especially if there are trailing cables) be put away safely as soon as practicable;
- Improving lighting; or
- Requiring workers to wear slip-resistant footwear.
Any live wires can cause people harm, whether by directly contacting them or through a conduit.
Voltages over 50 volts AC (120 volts DC) are considered hazardous and should be taken seriously.
Remember, electrical hazards are often fatal; those that aren’t can cause severe and permanent injury.
Your employer should:
- Arrange regular testing of any electrical appliances in the workplace by a qualified test and tag technician;
- Ensure the correct equipment is available at all times to perform the necessary tasks;
- Make sure all employees have access to safety equipment when using electrical equipment, including rubber-souled shoes; and
- Replace any damaged sections of cables.
At a minimum, businesses should have fire alarms and fire extinguishers in every workspace.
But owning this equipment is not enough to ensure employee safety – they need to be regularly maintained and checked.
Your employer should have someone come out to test and tag all safety equipment at least every six months, with maintenance and repairs scheduled every 12 months.
To prevent fires:
- Employees who work around flames should have access to fire-resistant workwear;
- Highly flammable materials should be handled properly;
- Electrical equipment not in use should be immediately switched off; and
- Smoking areas should be outdoors, away from the building, and proper ashtrays should be provided.
These points all assume accidental fires, where workplaces also need to consider the risk of arson. The easiest way to prevent arson attempts is to prevent strangers from entering the workspace. Install security doors on any entrance that is left unguarded, and ensure every visitor is required to sign in and wear a visitors badge, making intruders easier to spot.
Unfortunately, bullying in the workplace is a common cause of employee dissatisfaction and stress.
Employers should take this hazard as seriously as any physical danger by encouraging employees to voice concerns in a private space and enforcing appropriate and objective rules around aggressive or bullying behaviour.
Every workplace has physical hazards that need to be addressed. These could be anything from:
- Frayed electrical cords;
- Unguarded machinery;
- Exposed moving parts;
- Vibrations; and
- Working from high spaces.
Employers are responsible for ensuring that any physical dangers are removed or repaired (if broken) or that employees are educated about working safely around these dangers.
Employees, in turn, are accountable for behaving responsibly around physical hazards.
Whether your work is physical or intellectual (or a mixture of both), some jobs can put physical strain on your body, causing wear and tear over time if you cannot move or sit comfortably.
Ergonomic hazards can be challenging to identify as they are often not noticeable right away.
You should look out for:
- Repetitive, awkward movements that could be affecting your back and posture;
- Uncomfortable long-term seated positions (such as behind a computer at a desk); and
- Inability to change your position/get up and move around regularly.
If you feel that your work is putting strain on your body, speak to your employer about making adjustments.
This could mean getting a better desk chair, adjusting the height of your computer, purchasing wrist braces or taking breaks from physical work to rest.
Solid, liquid, or gas chemicals can cause permanent injury to employees who do not have the training or safety equipment available.
Consider if you are exposed to:
- Cleaning products and solvents;
- Vapours and fumes;
- Carbon monoxide;
- Gasoline; or
- Printer ink.
Hazardous materials should always be labelled, and your employer should ensure that each employee knows how to handle these materials safely.
If you don’t know how to correctly use a product, don’t use it.
To protect yourself from hazardous chemicals, always:
- Ensure adequate ventilation;
- Wash your hands;
- Minimise exposure to chemicals; and
- Use safety equipment every time.
Stress can affect a person’s overall health, so employers need to create a culture of balance to ensure employees aren’t overwhelmed by their workload.
Your employer should encourage:
- Regular breaks from work;
- Physical activity for sedentary workers;
- Asking for help when needed; and
- Prioritising mental health.
Repetitive or ongoing noise can permanently damage your eardrums, so it is crucial to protect your hearing.
Because hearing loss can happen progressively, this is a hazard that can be difficult to identify until it’s too late.
Don’t forget – just because you are used to the noise does not mean it’s not affecting your hearing.
If you work in a noisy environment, your employee needs to ensure that you have adequate hearing protection available at all times.
Lack of Safety Training
Putting safety procedures in place is essential for employee safety, but training employees in safety procedures is even more critical.
As well as hazards from inside the workplace, employees should train you to handle potential natural dangers such as earthquakes, fire and wind damage.
Such hazards may also include trees falling onto the workplace, bushfires, and flooding depending on the workplace.
These natural hazards are best handled when employees know exactly how to attend to the situation.
Most Australians spend a lot of time at work.
If your workplace is unsafe, you may be putting your health, or even your life, in danger every time you step into your workspace.
Jim’s Group provides a range of services that can help to improve the safety of your workplace.
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