Can you think of any workplace that is totally safe? We neither! Whether you work in a high- or a low-risk environment, there are dozens of health and safety hazards which are often overlooked for the sake of the most obvious/dangerous ones. Unfortunately, a lack of adequate control measures increases the likelihood of incidents threatening the well-being of staff. In addition, there are the negative consequences for the business, which are rarely limited to financial costs only. In the aftermath of an incident, there are immediate business repercussions- loss of reputation and credibility, downtime, productivity issues, effect on current employees, reduced performance, just to name a few…
To help you avoid the catastrophic consequences of a workplace incident, we have put together a list of the top 5 invisible, health and safety risks which more and more businesses fail to address and pay well-deserved attention to. Beware, these could make or break your business aspirations so you better take a closer look!
There are certain objects from our everyday life that we consider dirty. We can trace that awareness, imprinted in our minds, back to our earliest childhood memories. Can you count how many times you were warned by your parents to wash your hands after going to the toilet or playing with the dog? Well, a recent study (one of many) claims that all of this talking was not in vain… As a matter of fact, this parent-to-kid lesson should probably be part of a mandatory workplace health and safety talk because even if you work at an office, germs and bacteria are lurking on items you never thought of. Take your keyboard, for example. Did you know that it’s 20,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat? Yuk! And your smartphone? It has roughly 9,000 times more germs than a toilet seat. Vile, isn’t it? And just for the record- the name of the main bacteria which we are talking about is “gram-positive cocci” and is a common cause of pneumonia. So before you eat that apple smiling at you next to your keyboard, you better wash your hands or buy a pack of those anti-bacterial wipes you never thought you might need at your desk.
Researches show that over 20% of the UK population suffer from at least one allergy. Now, that is a serious percentage, isn’t it? While some allergies are mild and harmless, others might cause severe allergic reactions, such as the anaphylactic shock which can cause death. Common triggers, involve foods, medicines, insect strings, contrast agents and even latex found in rubber gloves. You already know that as a duty holder, every business owner is responsible for providing a safe working environment to their employees. We can’t stress enough that knowing your staff and their individual needs and health conditions is paramount for identifying potential risks and taking the necessary control measures to avoid harm. Preventing the consequences of allergies is no different than any other hazard at the workplace- you need to identify the triggers and avoid them whenever possible. To ensure you can protect your workforce, your requirements for sufficient qualified First-Aid provision should be assessed and proactively managed.
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We are living in a modern world where technology is a vital part of our daily routine. Some of us have jobs which require prolonged use of computers, otherwise called “display screen equipment”. Inevitably, long hours in front of the screen cause a variety of musculoskeletal disorders such as low back pain and wrist discomfort as well as eye-strain, headaches and fatigue. These should not be underestimated and must be considered as workplace health and safety hazards. In addition, the long-term health consequences of sedentary work activities should be considered. Remember, discomfort complaints are rarely a case of pure laziness! More and more organisations are beginning to see the link between worker discomfort and lost productive time. Not taking the necessary control measures, might result in employee health implications such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
From a business perspective, embedding ergonomics into your organisation’s health and safety program will reap benefits within your business due to the positive benefits that it brings both immediately and in the long-term. Let us start with the demonstrated care for your staff health which will not remain unnoticed. Employees’ positive reaction will increase job satisfaction leading to higher productivity and commitment levels, which by itself will assist on shaping your company ethos and this will also have a positive impact on your reputation as a caring business and employer. The best marketing tool for your reputation is your staff and just like with any other some investment is needed!
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Imagine you are a parent (Parents, you don’t have to J ). Cooking dinner, giving your children money and teaching them right from wrong- is this the full list of your responsibilities? To be a good parent you also need to listen to your kids. This will help you understand how they interact with the world around them and how the world responds. You can’t know how your children are treated by others unless you ask and show them they can trust you and talk to you about their problems. It is mostly the same with your staff- respect is earned through communication and winning the trust of each one of your employees. And if it is not for the respect, their health and safety could be at risk without you even noticing! Bullying and harassment, lack of respect and abuse in all of its forms… The list of invisible psychological, and sometimes physical threats, is a lot longer. Even you, as a workforce manager, can unintentionally be the reason for someone’s mental state.
Stress can be really difficult to identify in the workplace because not every employee will be willing to share and talk about it. It can be caused by a number of factors such as excessive workload demands, lack of control, bad relations with colleagues, bullying and harassment, low pay, the work environment and even by boredom. Workplace stress can cause mental and physical illnesses that are equally destructive. By law, it is the responsibility of the duty holder to take care of their employees on every level while they are at work and look for ways to resolve a variety of problems they might encounter. Mental health issues should be afforded the same importance and equal priority to any other workplace risk. As a starting point, talking with each member of your staff and building trust with them is proven to be the best method of identifying and addressing invisible psychological factors.
Breathe in and out and take a careful look around you… Now have a fresh look from the perspective of your staff even if this means that you have to literally put yourself into their shoes and feel what they feel. Are you happy with your surroundings? You might already know the answer because you work within the same premises as your employees. Designing a better and more friendly workplace doesn’t have to be expensive, you know? It is all about small changes such as removing clutter from the workplace and dividing a few housekeeping tasks between each member of staff. Do you have a “chill-out” zone? The benefits shouldn't be under-estimated. Perhaps it could be as simple as a water cooler in an open area, perhaps with a window for staff to relax their gaze, get a break from their desk, and even promote a sense of community. Add a coffee machine and some comfy chairs and you're well on your way to creating a social-hub where staff can share information, develop relationships, and where team spirit can flourish. Is your workplace air poorly ventilated? A few well-chosen plants act as natural air purifiers, cleaning up harmful pollutants and regulating oxygen levels. They also provide a visual break from the hard lines and harsh impact of office equipment - in other words, they look nice!
We hope that we have opened your eyes about some of the invisible health and safety risks at your workplace which probably never even crossed your mind. Now, take a moment to chat with your staff, update your health and safety hazards register and decide how you are going to address each one of the newly identified risks. Encourage your employees to report any potential hazards they’ve noticed- you never know what they will come up with. It might be life-saving and/or positive for your company culture. Both are important!