Before implementing health and safety procedures, you first need to assess exactly where the hazards lie. Every workplace has potential hazards, whatever the nature of your business. Some will be obvious and others less so, but you still need to hunt them out and take appropriate measures to manage them safely.
The specifics will be different for each business, but the four categories below broadly cover all eventualities:
These can be found in any workplace, in varying degrees. Tripping over obstacles, lifting heavy objects, slipping on wet patches, being struck by loose or falling objects, misuse of tools or machinery, poor lighting, excessive dust, poor air quality, or long exposure to loud noises can all have a detrimental outcome.
Many of these will be obvious in areas such as construction and manufacturing, but don’t assume that offices are any safer. Loose carpets, trailing electrical cords, boxes left in hallways, badly lit stairs, a dodgy old kettle in the staff kitchen, a leaking water cooler, or heavy boxes on an inaccessible high shelf all provide the potential for injury.
Clapped out old office chairs are responsible for a multitude of postural issues. Inadequate lumbar support or height adjustment controls soon lead to back issues – the effects of which shouldn’t be underestimated. Back problems can stay with you forever without the correct treatment and a decent chair.
Poor posture can also be a problem in construction or manufacturing. Operating machinery or using tools in cramped spaces may force the user into an awkward posture for prolonged periods. Again, long-term health issues will result if the matter isn’t addressed, and you could lose a good worker as result.
Biological issues can be found in any workplace with dirty or unsanitary conditions. Mould, bacteria, vermin, dust or sewage can easily lead to serious, long-term health problems.
Healthcare professionals face numerous hazards from infectious conditions and although the danger can never be completely eliminated, given their profession, awareness of the pitfalls and the correct procedures will help to lessen the risk.
Working with or near to toxic substances can have very dangerous consequences indeed – respiratory problems, skin issues, burns and blindness to name but a few. Some manufacturing processes involve hazardous heavy metals such as lead, mercury and aluminium, or give off toxic gases.
Even everyday items such as cleaning products, glue, paint, pesticides and aerosols can create health issues if they are incorrectly handled. Indeed, even photocopier toner can cause respiratory problems and emit carbon monoxide if the photocopier overheats.
A variety of situations can adversely affect the mental health of workers. Long hours, bullying, sexual harassment, demanding clients or bosses will all take their toll. It won’t just be the individual who suffers personally. The quality of their work will decline as well and that’s not good for you or them.
Identifying the hazards in your workplace is the first step towards completing a risk assessment of your company. This then allows you to create and implement appropriate measures to reduce, control or eliminate workplace hazards, as required by The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
In later articles, we’ll show you how to undertake the next step of the process.
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