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5 common health and safety risks in the workplace

Health and safety issues can cause many problems in the workplace – not least putting your employees at risk. The best way to avoid them is to be aware of them. Richard Miller, managing director of powered access rental company Star Platforms tells us which risks to keep an eye out for.

 

The HSE recently published its annual report on workplace fatalities in the UK. There were 144 workplace deaths in the UK in the 12 months leading to March 2018 – up from 9 the previous year. HSE chairman Martin Temple said that despite the fact the country has one of the lowest rates of fatal injury across the EU, the figures are still “clearly a source of concern”, and I couldn’t agree more.

The full 16-page report also looks at workplace deaths by industry, accident kind, gender and age and employment status. There is also a breakdown of deaths by region, and a comparison of the UK to other EU countries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most fatalities happened in the construction (38) and agriculture (29) industries, but there were also deaths reported in manufacturing (15), transport and storage (15) and waste (12) sectors. 35 deaths fell under the category of ‘other’.

Though we are seeing a downward trend in workplace deaths, the fact remains that there are almost three deaths per week in the UK. This is just too many. At Star Platforms we offer training in working at height – which is the main cause of fatal accidents. The HSE report claims that in the past year 35 employee deaths were caused by falling from a height, compared to 27 the year before – an increase of 29%!

The falls that tend to result in the most fatalities are in the construction and landscaping industries, where employees may work well above ground level. In an effort to prevent these types of falls in the future, companies should periodically test their staffs’ knowledge and understanding of the hazards at risk and the safety measures that need to be put in place. Additionally, providing extra safety precautions such as guardrails, pulley supports, and rope wherever possible aids to alleviate some of the dangers. Firms should always provide fall protection, and make certain that their employees know how to wear and use their protection gear correctly.

Reports like the HSE one don’t make for a fun read, but they’re important because they continue to promote best practices for health and safety in the workplace. Working from height is just one consideration though; here are four more areas that businesses may wish to research further.

Poor housekeeping

This often forgotten task may seem pretty straightforward, but if pushed too far to the back of your company’s to-do list, it could end in catastrophe for everyone. Allowing boxes and clutter to block aisles, fire exits, or emergency exits is a housekeeping problem that happens far too frequently in the workplace or office environment. Make sure to always keep these areas clear and train employees on where and how to get to them if disaster strikes. Other simple chores such as failing to immediately clean up spills or standing water can also lead to slips, trips, and falls that can be life-threatening.  Additionally, over-stacking shelves in storage rooms or warehouses can be very dangerous. Blocked sprinkler heads will limit their effectiveness in a fire-related emergency.

Electric wires, extension cords and sockets

Frayed wires, faulty sockets, and inappropriate use of extension cords are huge red flags in any workplace. Frayed wires and faulty sockets, if not reported, can result in electrocution and even create sparks that cause a fire. ‘Daisy-chaining’ extension cords, or using multiple power strips connected together due to lack of sockets, is against many safety codes and standards worldwide. The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) state that extension cords are meant to be used only for temporary power supply, and not as permanent fixtures. Extension cords and floor level wiring also present a tripping hazard. Business owners should make sure employees are using these devices for the correct purposes, inspecting them periodically for wear and tear, and providing training for staff so they can watch for signs of potential problems.

Toxic fumes 

Chemical and gas leaks still remain to be a common, and sometimes fatal, accident-causing problem in the workplace. With modern technology, better prevention measures are more possible than in previous years, for example, having a simple carbon monoxide detector can go a long way. Luckily, it is now mandated that natural gas has an odour to aid early detection, but making sure staff remain vigilant should be part of your firm’s health and safety training programme. Additionally, before choosing an office space or warehouse, management should hire an inspector to check for any existing gas or toxic substances, such as asbestos, that may be in the building – this is even more important for older facilities.

Moving vehicles

The HSE report claims that 26 fatalities were a result of an employee being struck by a moving vehicle, with 30 fatalities occurring the year before. This includes incidents involving automotive vehicles, as well as more industrial motor transport units such as forklifts and construction vehicles. What’s more, crashes on and off the job have far-reaching psychological effects on everyone from staff to family members, and costly financial consequences. The OSHA provides guidance on how and why you should set up a driver safety programme, to prevent injuries as well as workplace fatalities.

The key to managing and preventing health and safety risks at work is by being defensive, providing training, and remaining vigilant. If you see clutter blocking a fire exit, a pool of water sitting on the floor of the storage room, or even a frayed electrical wire – don’t wait for someone else to notice it and fix it! Health and safety in the workplace is everyone’s job, and there should be procedures in place in regards to who to report an issue to, and how an issue is dealt with.