Safe and healthy workplaces are the right of every employee/worker. The health and well-being of employees is directly proportional to the overall professional outcome. The developed world is now adopting this approach however; many underdeveloped countries still lag in ensuring workplace health and safety.
Occupational safety and health is a branch of public health studies that ponders over the risk factors of workplace health hazards and suggests ways to manage them. Some of the factors that are focused on in this field include the use of outdated machinery, poorly ventilated offices, sedentary behavior, workplace harassment or bullying, occupational stress, and anxiety, etc.
Current Risk Factors
In the past, the factories used to be dangerous and had a heavy toll on the physical, mental and emotional health of its workers. It was due to the manual work done by cheap labor. However, with more technological advancement and digitized workplaces, the risk factors have only changed, but have not been completely eradicated.
The health risks in workplaces vary from profession to profession. For instance, manual work of construction workers poses the risk of falling from tall heights, whereas people involved in online business can face physical stress and long-term abnormalities caused by sedentary postures. There are also the mental and emotional risk factors that come with hectic or abusive work environment, which is quite common these days. Hence, the modern working environments, despite being more productive and efficient than before, carry many dangers that need proper addressing.
Some of the occupational health risk factors are discussed here;
1. Falling from Heights
Ironically, developed countries witness most of the deaths occurring from falling from tall heights. It is due to the rapid and constant construction process in these countries. Take the example of window cleaners, risking their lives to clean your office windows! Inappropriate harnesses, scaffolds, and fall arrest systems and lack of training for them makes the situation worse. A report released by the UK government in 2019 revealed that almost 150 workers get injured from falling in the UK every year. Among whom, 38 die on average. Alarmingly, this is an average of 3 persons per month!
2. Heat and Cold Illnesses
Exposure to extreme weather conditions during work is very common in third world countries. The most common heat-related illnesses involve heat stroke, heat syncope, heat tetany, heat cramps, etc. These illnesses mostly occur due to unsafe and hectic work schedules. Similarly, cold-related illnesses also pose a risk to the workers’ overall health and performance. Almost 90% of the workers, according to a report by WHO, report to their offices during minor illnesses like flu or mild temperature. This is due to the limited number of sick leaves they get, which they don’t want to use up!
3. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
RSI occurs when the workers remain exposed to physically stressful working conditions that require continuous overuse of muscle and joints. The constant use of laptops or mobile screens cause eye muscle strain that is also a form of RSI. This stress to the muscles wear them out and pose long-term posture related issues that can lead to permanent abnormalities in serious cases.
4. Sedentary Behavior
Sedentary behavior includes sitting in the same posture for long periods. It is more common in offices with desk jobs than the physical labor ones. Long periods of inactivity cause obesity and blood clotting. These can subsequently cause diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol problems. Most of the work environments do not consider this issue and hence the workforce maintains an imbalance between physical and mental exertions.
5. Workplace Violence
Workplace violence includes professional, emotional, mental and physical violence that causes health issues for the workforce. Professional jealousies, bullying or harassment, physical fights, ideological differences and emotional abuse (mostly by the seniors), are some of the examples of workplace violence. This is also known as worker-to-worker violence which can lead to long term traumas, financial loses or lifelong personal animosities.
Dealing with the Risk Factors
For a more productive work environment, private and public offices need to practically assess the risk factors and make a long-term strategy to handle this issue. The assessment should
- Identify the hazards
- Identify all affected by the hazard and how
- Evaluate the risk
- Identify and prioritize appropriate control measures
After assessing and identifying the problems, the authorities should take measures to eradicate them. For instance,
- Proper safety equipment (harnesses, tethers, scaffolds, etc) should be given to the hard labor workforce
- Environmental factors should be considered, such as harsh weather conditions and contingencies
- Leniency for leave should be given for the already ill workers to reduce their stress
- A bit of physical activity should be ensured for the sedentary work environment. For instance, the employees can have a small break period for resting or stretching
- Workplace violence of all sorts should be handled with strict policies and rules, especially where there are diverse people with different mindsets
Apart from these, worker cooperation and coordination is the key to obtain a safe and healthy environment. It is not just the responsibility of the owners, but the cooperation of the workers as well that can maintain a balanced and healthy work environment.