Workplace hazards aren’t always obvious. In fact, some of the biggest causes of health problems at work are invisible. Others cause long-term damage that can sneak up on us. While compensation can sometimes be provided for these health problems, proving that such health issues are work-related isn’t always easy. Besides financial compensation can only go so far in aiding your recovery – it is better to take preventative action if you can. Below are just some of the most common overlooked health risks at work and the ways in which you can protect yourself from them.
Roughly 4000 injuries per year are related to extension cords. Half of these are the result of people tripping over extension cables (and many of these injuries occur at work). Other injuries are caused by electrical shock or fire-related injuries as a result of faulty or overloaded extension cables (as much as 50 deaths per year can be traced back to extension cables).
When using extension cables, make sure that they do not trail over walkways – run them under rugs or find other ways of keeping them out the way. Avoid overloading extension cables by considering the maximum voltage of each socket. You don’t want to have too many machines running off a socket, and you should avoid daisy-chaining extension cables. Finally, make sure damaged cables are replaced.
Uncleaned shared equipment
Shared equipment in offices such as phones and computer keyboards can become a spreader of diseases – including bacteria and viruses – if you are not cleaning it regularly. In fact, studies have found that the average computer keyboard often contains five times more bacteria than you’d find on a swabbed toilet seat.
Make sure that such equipment is being regularly cleaned – if not by a cleaner, then by yourself. You should also consider habits that could encourage bacteria build-up. Eating at one’s desk is a prime example – food crumbs and spillages can quickly help bacteria to thrive.
Loud noise exposure
Is your workplace noisy? Work environments that regularly exceed 85 decibels can put workers at risk of developing premature hearing loss if they are not wearing hearing protection. Examples of such workplaces include airport grounds, construction sites, factories, nightclubs and music venues.
Earplugs or ear defenders are a simple way to muffle noise. Some specialist earplugs can reduce volume while still enabling a sharp level of clarity (useful for musicians). Explore different types of earplugs to get the best protection.
Some tools can create vibrations, which can cause muscle achiness and nerve damage over time. This condition is known as (HAV) Hand Arm Vibration and affects 300,000 people in the UK alone.
It is important not to use vibrating tools for too long – regular breaks can help to prevent injury. Nowadays, many tool manufacturers sell low-vibration tools that can reduce the risk of injury. Anti-vibration gloves can be purchased too, but generally are not very effective and are best avoided.
Ergonomics is all to do with how you position your body when using certain equipment or furniture. The setup of your desk should promote good ergonomics so that your body isn’t strained in any way. Back pain and knee pain can be caused by sitting in certain positions for too long – and such pains can turn into permanent injuries if you do not address them soon.
Make sure that you are sat up straight and that your chair offers a certain level of back support. Make sure that you also have enough legroom and that your feet are flat on the floor. Top quality fully-adjustable office chairs are worth investing in to get the perfect position. Either you or your employer should purchase such a chair.
Many slips and falls occur in poorly lit environments. Pub cellars, store cupboards and outdoor areas at night are all examples of places where people sustain injuries at work due to poor visibility.
Make sure to use overhead lighting and torches when provided, and don’t put off changing dead bulbs. When working in outdoor environments at night, use head torch lights. If you drive regularly at night, it’s also important that headlights are kept clean and that you try to stick to well-lit roads.
Poor air quality
Respiratory issues can also be caused by breathing in too much dust, mould or fumes. Such health problems often occur over a long period, beginning as a mild cough and transforming into COPD. And it’s not just obvious work environments like construction sites where this can occur – some offices are so dusty that workers have developed respiratory issues as a result of working there for long periods.
It’s important that all workplaces take steps to ventilate indoor spaces. Masks can also be necessary in some environments for limiting exposure, while breathing apparatus may be necessary in environments with particularly poor air quality.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes items like gloves, masks, hard hats, earplugs and boots. Such equipment can often prevent injuries occurring, but must be kept in good condition for it to offer enough protection. This is where many workplaces go wrong.
Regular inspections of PPE can check for damage and can make sure that adequate protection is provided. Get into the habit of always checking your own PPE before you wear it.
Lack of physical activity
Many of us work sedentary jobs that force us to remain physically inactive for long periods. This lack of physical activity can result in us developing all kinds of health problems in the long run including weight gain, heart disease, deep vein thrombosis and back pain.
A workout at the beginning or end of the day may help to counteract this. However, you could further prevent issues by taking regular breaks from your desk to get up and walk around.
Perhaps the biggest hidden health hazard at work is stress. While stress can be caused by all kinds of things, work remains one of the top triggers. A worrying study found that 79% of us reported regularly experiencing work-related stress. Extreme stress can drive some people to suicide and self-harm, while causing burnout in others. Long-term physical effects can meanwhile include everything from hair loss to a higher risk of heart disease.
If you are getting stressed at work, talk to your employer and consider exploring ways of reducing this stress. Taking time off is sometimes necessary for giving your mind and body a break, as well as allowing you to gain some perspective on your job.