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How to Stay Safe and Avoid Workplace Injury

According to the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, each year, around 6,000 employees in the United States die from workplace injuries while another 50,000 die from illnesses caused by exposure to workplace hazards. In addition, 6 million workers suffer non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses, which can cost businesses billions of dollars each year.

An injured worker lies on the ground, his dislodged safety helmet in the foreground

Generally, workplace injuries and illnesses arise from unsafe work practices, hazardous industrial conditions, or exposures to harmful chemicals that were improperly stored. To prevent injuries, it is necessary for you to have sufficient information about what contributes to their occurrence and ways to fix the problem. Even though accidents are not always predictable and preventable, knowing some workplace safety will allow you to minimize the injuries and illnesses that occur in your workplace.

Here are some important safety steps that you can take to help avoid accidents and injury at work:

Be informed of the risk Continuing education programs and training programs on the various jobs and machines should help increase your awareness of the dangers present in each job as well as the safest and most productive way to perform each job.  Employers have to take responsibility and make sure that there is sufficient training in place on the safest way to perform the job at hand.  If you or someone else is unsure about how to perform some aspect of your job or how to use a certain machine, you need to make your employer aware of the situation instead of ignoring it.  When a potential hazard is discovered, make sure everyone else in your workplace is aware of the problem.  Also, notify your supervisor and file any reports or documents about the potential hazard.  It is important to follow up to make sure the problem was addressed.  Telling someone there is a problem is not a guarantee that the problem will be adequately resolved, even if it is the supervisor.

A rack of yellow safety helmets at a construction work siteMake sure you have proper equipment There should be proper ventilation, lighting, and safety gear.  The equipment needs to be regularly and thoroughly maintained.  It is important to use equipment and power tools only with the manufacturers’ guards in place.  If you encounter or use chemicals, remember to have safety glasses, goggles, gloves, and aprons.  Employers need to provide training in the proper use of personal protective equipment that includes instruction on how to handle chemicals safely and legally and keeping proper documentation of the chemicals.  Warnings for these chemicals need to be prominently displayed It is also important to know how to respond to chemical spills should one occur.  Also, wear proper footwear with the treads necessary to prevent slip and falls.

Get plenty of sleep According to a National Sleep Foundation study, the overwhelming majority of people say that they do not get enough sleep.  In addition, workplace tiredness is costing at least 80 billion dollars a year to U.S. industry.  Being overtired creates a risk to employees who are involved in activities that require concentration and quick response.  It has been estimated that workers’ tiredness is the main cause for 18% of all accidents and injuries occurring at the workplace.  Therefore, you have to remember to try to maintain a health lifestyle with sufficient sleep.  Studies have been performed which show that poor sleep impairs judgment and decision making ability and slow your reaction time to the equivalent of being legally drunk.  It is especially difficult to get sufficient sleep when you work the night shift.  You are fighting your natural clock to try to stay awake during the nighttime and get a restful sleep during the day.  If you are a nightshift worker, it is important to try to keep the same sleep schedule.  Remember to try to get 7 – 8 hours of sleep in a day.

Do not overexert yourself Excessive lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying an object can cause serious injuries.  Lifting heavy items is one of the leading causes of workplace injury.  According to the National Safety Council, repeated, improper lifting and carrying heavy objects can cause back strain as well as lead to overexertion of heart and lung muscles,  When you use safe lifting techniques, you are less likely to suffer from back strain, pulled muscles, wrist injuries, elbow injuries, and spinal injuries.  Try to use carts, tables, or other mechanisms to carry objects instead of trying to carry them yourself.  If you must manually lift the object, maintain a straight spinal alignment.  This can be achieved by bending at the knees and not the waist.  Also, keep the object close to your body and your elbows close to your body.  Limit the weight you lift to no more than 50 pounds.  If you have to lift a load heavier than 50 pounds, get the assistant of another person to help you.  Take regular breaks so that your muscles can rest.

Avoid repetitive motion Repeated stress or strain can cause significant injuries.  If your job requires you to remain in a chair for long periods of time, make sure to stand up and stretch throughout the day.  Take sufficient pauses and breaks throughout the day.  Also, maintain proper posture by having materials, tools, and equipment in a comfortable range from your body.  If your job requires a lot of typing, remember to take breaks from typing.  Carpal tunnel syndrome often results from repetitive stress of computer keyboard work, assembly line work, or factory work. Ergonomic equipment is available as a preventative measure for many types of repetitive motion injuries, so be sure to ask your employer about what is available to you at your workplace.

Be careful while on the road Car and truck accidents are major causes of workplace injury and death.  Refrain from talking on your cell phone and trying to multi-task while driving.  Focus on the road and the other drivers on the road and make sure to get sufficient sleep.  If you find yourself tired, pull over and take a 20 minute power nap.

Read the next article in the series:  Accidents in the Workplace