7 Health Hazards That Might Be Present at Your Workplace

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Health Hazards

Workplaces can harbor many hidden health hazards that employees may not be aware of. Prolonged exposure to these hazards can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health. Being aware of potential workplace dangers is the first step towards mitigating them. According to AIHA, approximately 95,000 workers in the US died from work-related illnesses in 2017 alone. Furthermore, 3.5 million workers were injured on the job in the same year. 

Knowing how to identify and manage health risks at work is imperative. Here are some common workplace hazards to be mindful of to promote employee safety and well-being.  

Hazardous Chemicals

Many workplaces utilize chemicals for manufacturing, cleaning, or other processes. Frequent contact with hazardous chemicals through inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption can cause both acute and chronic health issues. Acute effects include headaches, nausea, skin and eye irritation. Chronic effects involve respiratory problems, organ damage, infertility, neurological disorders, cancer, etc. The toxicity depends on the chemical type, concentration, and exposure duration. Industrial solvents, heavy metals, pesticides, and asbestos are some of the most hazardous. 

A significant concern with asbestos is its widespread use in various industries, especially in the Navy. Many navy ships and facilities were constructed using asbestos-containing materials. Over time, when these materials deteriorate or are disturbed, asbestos fibers become airborne, posing a significant health risk to those nearby. Sadly, this has led to many Navy veterans developing illnesses related to asbestos exposure. A particularly severe condition arising from this exposure is mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of cancer. As a result, a growing number of Navy veteran mesothelioma cases have been reported, drawing attention to the pressing need for safety measures and better health monitoring for veterans and other at-risk workers.

Proper handling procedures, protective equipment, and training on safe chemical practices are essential to reduce this exposure. Facilities should have designated, well-ventilated areas for chemical storage, and spills must be cleaned up immediately according to safety protocols. Additionally, companies must conduct periodic air quality monitoring to ensure chemical vapor levels remain within permissible exposure limits. An MSDS (material safety data sheet) should be available for every chemical on-site, detailing proper safety precautions. 

Air Pollutants

Indoor air pollution is another major concern, as workers breathe recirculated air in shared spaces for prolonged periods daily. Air pollutants like mold, asbestos fibers, particulate matter, ozone, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can accumulate in buildings from various sources. These include construction materials, office equipment, cleaning agents, smoking, and vehicle exhaust seeping indoors. 

Poor indoor air quality effects range from headaches, fatigue, and eye irritation to asthma, allergies, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Workplaces must identify all pollutant sources and take steps to eliminate them. Improving ventilation with outdoor air, installing high-efficiency air filters, and regularly scheduling air duct deep cleaning are also important. Facilities should adhere to emissions standards for new equipment purchases. 

Noise Pollution 

Excessive noise is pervasive in many work environments, including industrial zones, construction sites, open office layouts, and customer service call centers. Sounds above 70 decibels can begin damaging hearing over time, while loud noises above 120 decibels can cause immediate harm. Prolonged exposure to loud noise causes noise-induced hearing loss that worsens over the years. Excessive noise also induces stress by activating the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Solutions for mitigating noise pollution include installing sound-absorbing materials or noise barriers, using earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, and transitioning to quieter equipment and processes whenever possible. Companies must take proactive action in designating and marking noisy areas. Additionally, workers in these zones must use hearing protection gear and take frequent breaks in quiet areas. Schedule regular hearing tests for employees to monitor early signs of hearing loss. 

Slips, Trips, and Falls

Slips, trips, and falls are among the most common causes of workplace injury and lost time. Spills, cluttered walkways, loose cables, uneven floor surfaces, poor lighting, and improper footwear can lead to falls. 

As a solution, facilities must ensure that floors and stairs have proper surfacing, such as slip-resistant materials, and be well-maintained. Adequate lighting, installation of railings on stairs, non-slip mats, and prompt spill clean-up procedures can also significantly improve safety. Organizations should implement good housekeeping practices to minimize tripping hazards and obstructions. Proper selection of slip-resistant footwear is also important. 

Additionally, employees must remain vigilant. Safety training on the prevention of slips and falls can further reduce incidents. Promptly reporting and addressing potential hazards before an accident occurs is crucial.

Bloodborne Pathogens

Workers who handle blood, bodily fluids, tissues, or contaminated equipment risk exposure to bloodborne pathogens like HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Those who are especially vulnerable are healthcare professionals, emergency responders, medical waste handlers, and housekeeping staff and the main cause of exposure is through needle-sticks, splashes to eyes/mouth, or contact with damaged skin.

Strict adherence to precautions is the primary means of preventing exposure, including the use of protective equipment like gloves, gowns, masks, and eyewear. Proper disposal techniques, safe handling of soiled linens, and proper clean-up of spills are imperative. On the other hand, routine medical surveillance helps detect and treat infections early. 

Poor Ergonomics

Improper office setups and workstations subject workers to various pains and injuries, especially of the back, neck, shoulders, and wrists. Chairs, desks, computer monitors, and other equipment should be adjustable to suit individual needs, and the items should be positioned to minimize strain. Workers should also adjust their posture frequently, take standing breaks, and avoid hunching over to ensure their overall comfort and long-term musculoskeletal health.

Companies must provide ergonomic office furniture and accessories that can help minimize risk. These include adjustable chairs with lumbar support, angled keyboard trays, document holders, wrist rests, monitor risers, and footrests. Another thing often undermined is adequate legroom and proper monitor height and distance, which should be ensured. Regular stretches, exercise, and stress management further promote musculoskeletal health. 

Electromagnetic Radiation

Electronic devices ubiquitous in modern offices, including computers, phones, printers, and wireless networks, emit low levels of electromagnetic radiation. Prolonged close-range exposure may increase cancer risk, but more research is still needed.

Precautionary measures workers can take include keeping active devices away from the body, reducing extended use of cellphones or wireless headsets, and taking frequent breaks from screens. Employees must ensure that their devices are shut off when not in use to minimize emissions. Additionally, avoid putting laptops directly on the lap. 

Organizations can also limit radiation exposure by hardwiring networks and printers. Proper setup of wireless routers helps avoid overexposure in offices.

Conclusion

Modern workplaces harbor many hidden threats, from chemical toxins to stress. However, awareness of these common health hazards is the first step towards mitigating them through preventive action, protective equipment, and promoting healthy work environments. With vigilance, employees can avoid occupational illness and injury. Workplaces also have an ethical obligation to minimize risks and prioritize worker well-being. Staying informed and proactive about workplace health hazards is essential for professional success and personal well-being.

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