This article is contributed by Jacob Reede.
Work related accidents are far too common in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, about 3 million Americans are injured on the job each year. That is about 1 percent of the U.S. population. Still our statistics are much better than the world average. The International Labor Organization reports 250 million occupational accidents each year worldwide, while many others probably go unreported. That is about 3.5 percent of the world’s population.
America provides better working conditions than most other nations. One of the greatest reasons for this is accountability. Business owners are required to pay workmen’s compensation and many provide health insurance for their employees as well. The frequency of employee lawsuits in the U.S. is also higher. Serious employee injuries can virtually bankrupt a small business, and therefore small business owners must be among the most cautious employers in the world.
Dangers in the Work Place
- Air Quality – Toxic fumes and air quality concerns have proven to be among the most vital safety issues. Storing chemicals safely and avoiding the release of fumes can save employee lives. Inspect regularly to insure adequate ventilation and containment of fumes away from employees. When this is impossible, respirator equipment should be provided.
- Unknown Toxins - Not only should business owners concern themselves with known toxins, they should also be concerned with any type of fumes. Several years ago, popcorn manufacturers were shocked to learn that concentrations of Diacetyl could cause permanent lung damage. Diacetyl is a chemical found naturally in dairy products. No one knew it could be harmful until workers started getting sick. For this reason, good ventilation is vital and an effort should be made to insure that no fumes be allowed to permeate the air without taking proper precautions.
- Machinery and Equipment – Employers should install safety switches, guards and railings wherever possible to avoid injuries. Open blades should be shielded to prevent employees from cutting themselves. Molten metal and other heated and liquefied materials should be contained so that they do not leak or splatter. Belt driven machinery should have both guards and safety switches.
- Biohazards – Prior to the AIDS epidemic few people, even within the medical profession, thought about the dangers of blood and saliva. Today anyone who might need to administer first aid or medical procedures should be equipped with rubber gloves and perhaps masks. Proper disposal of soiled bandages and adequate clean up of blood with antibacterial compounds should be part of employee training. Restrooms and break rooms should be kept sanitary as well.
- Extreme temperatures – Heat stroke, heat stress, dehydration and heart attacks are all life threatening conditions related to extreme temperatures. Employees should have free access to properly air conditioned and heated break rooms. Measures should be taken to keep employees properly hydrated in hot weather. Fans and proper ventilation should be provided where air conditioning is impractical and more frequent breaks allowed when the weather is extreme.
- Employee Fatigue – Fatigue is the frequently unmentioned cause of many accidents. Third shift employees, employees required to work more than eight hour shifts and employees with extremely monotonous jobs are all at a higher risk for injury, especially employees who operate industrial equipment. Employees need regular breaks and reasonable work hours.