WORK PLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY
Workplace Health and Safety
Employee safety is an important subject that forms the focal concern for various parties. For investors and company management, employees are an important resource that enables the firm to remain operational and profitable. As far as the government is concerned, the working population is made up of the most healthy and productive members of the society, and hence the main drivers of the community. The group also makes up the greatest percentage of providers in the community; therefore, catering for the needs of the dependents. Traditionally, the government, the society, and non-governmental agencies have played an important role in ensuring the safety of the working population. However, most of the corporate institutions have taken up a reactive approach towards the issue by responding to the external demands to ensure that the employees are working in a safe environment. The principle role of the government is to make and enforce policies while punishing those found culpable of employee health and safety offenses. On the other hand, the role of society and non-governmental institutions has mainly been that of activism, education.
The workplace is supposed to be a source of livelihood for the workers and a means to achieve an intended end for the owners. However, critical reviews of the existing statistics display workplaces as death traps and sources of injuries. It is therefore, important to identify the underlying causes of injuries and deaths and attempt to offer possible intervention measures.
The current research mainly serves to identify the common hazards plaguing workplaces and the possible interventions that are effective in minimizing their risk of occurrence.
The growing need to ensure employee safety at the workplace has resulted in the emergence of occupational health and safety, which is a field that specifically focuses on the safety and well-being of the employees while at work. The World Health Organization now considers workplace safety a priority in health promotion in the 21st century. Furthermore, it has collaborated with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to conduct various studies whose findings indicate that a significant percentage of the workers especially in the manufacturing industries suffer from injuries sustained in the workplace resulting in economic crises (ILO 2010; WHO 2017). Statistics in the field show a deteriorating scenario regarding the state of employee safety. Approximately 153 workers are involved in a work related accident on a daily basis. Moreover, there are about 6,300 fatalities daily resulting from occupational incidents and work related health complications, which translates to around 2.3 million deaths annually. There are more than 317 million reported accidents in the workplace with a significant percentage resulting in loss of person-hours and economic challenges for the injured personnel. Furthermore, the increasing liberalization of economies and trade around the world, compounded by the technological advancements, have served to aggravate the issue of occupational well-being and safety, which makes the workplace safety a global concern, especially among the developing nations (Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety 2010).
It is prudent to point out that the global community has increased its concern towards occupational health and safety over the recent past, especially in developing countries. The increasing concern has realized a marked improvement in the field in the developed countries with the situation in the developing countries remaining terrible. A review of the existing literature reveals that there are significant amount of information regarding some practical measures on a wide range of health and safety performances (Gahan, Ben & Paul 2014). In practice, situations characterized by people and complex technologies tend to attract safety issues and accidents. Furthermore, since it is impossible to eliminate all risks, measures to minimize and manage them should be in place.
Firms that have implemented organization health and safety (OHS) normally employ work-place based training sessions mandated by the law. For instance, the law in South Australia provides for general requirements for OHS training. Additionally, various institutions serve to regulate and standardize work place training within their jurisdictions. The public sector in South Australia has formalized the delivery of OHS through the institution of accredited qualifications for both practitioners and managers. Competency based training courses tend to require complex and holistic approaches to the assessment practices, which is especially the case for diploma and advanced training levels. Furthermore, such approaches demand that the tutor or assessor to take into consideration a wide range of contexts affecting the member during the assessment process, the nature of the working environment, and differences in the working experiences among the participants. The requirements of the training and assessment program are associated with Malcom Knowles’ adult learning principles, which assert that the most effective means of achieving competency among adults is by designing knowledge and instruction according to the contexts of their application. Knowles coined the European term for adult learning “andragogy,” which is different from ‘pedagogy’ and refers to the art and science of assisting adults to learn new formal concepts. Andragogy focuses on the tailored application of learning theory to meet the needs of adult learners. The approach is apprentice centered and engages both the instructor and the learner in a cooperative manner, whereby the learner is characterized by a higher level of life experiences. Some of the underlying assumptions to the approach are that adults are primarily self-driven; capable of exploiting their life experiences in the learning process; able to identify their level of readiness to learn; and capable associate the content learnt with life problems (Pappas 2013).
The research methodology mainly involves performing a review of the existing literature, which is limited to internet sources. Important to note is that although the approach appears to limit amount of information accessed, internet penetration and technological advancements have made it possible to publish information online easily. Additionally, most of the traditional libraries and journals have also set up digital sites where the same data is also accessible remotely. The literature review process is designed to identify documents and websites in particular that assess the documented health and safety risks and the most appropriate safety measures to minimize the risks. Furthermore, the research identifies that workplaces are diverse in nature and hence the review of literature will mainly focus on office work spaces and construction sites as these are the most prominent.
A hazard in occupational health and safety refers to the potential source of harm or negative impact on an individual. Important to distinguish from harm is the term risk, which refers to the likelihood that a hazard may harm or adversely affect a person. For instance, a water or oil spill in an office represents a slipping hazard. HHowever, blocking the area around the spill serves to minimize the risk of slipping although the hazard remains present.
One of the important processes in OHS involves the categorization of risk. This is an intricate process where the level of risk is categorized depending on its severity of harm or adverse effect, the likelihood of occurrence, and the number of times and persons exposed to the it (Wegman & McGee 2004).
Common Hazards, Causes, and Possible Control Measures
Work places are diverse in nature ranging from offices, open fields, manufacturing plants, to construction sites. However, the scope of this research mainly focuses on offices and construction sites to address the issues concerned in a comprehensive manner.
Most of the contemporary office working environments appear safe and relatively harmless. This is especially the case when making a comparison with other settings, such as chemical factories, manufacturing plants, and construction sites. However, despite their appearance, offices still pose a number of hazards to the individuals who are present.
Hot liquid burn. Contemporary offices normally have hot fluids and heating equipment, such as hot beverages and water. Their presence normally present a heightened risk of skin burns when they accidentally spill on the skin. Such accidents normally occur when a person unknowingly holds a cup of hot coffee, which burns their hands. Such an individual may also lose grip of the hot cup and end up pouring the hot contents on themselves or other individuals around. To manage such hazards, it is important to ensure proper labeling of all hot elements in an office and restrict their use to a designated area. For instance, the management can restrict the placing or drinking of hot beverages to a specially designed lounge (Maurer 2016).
Slipping, tripping, or falling. These are common hazards in a typical workplace. The hazards are commonly associated with slippery floors, uncomfortable shoes, or objects lying on the floor. As far as slippery floors are concerned, the management should ensure that there is clear and readable signage indicating where the floors are slippery. For instance, all cleaning personnel should place a well-designed stand on the areas they are cleaning to caution other individuals that the area around is slippery. Furthermore, in case of water spillage, the first person to notice the hazard should immediately label the floor as slippery and inform the relevant personnel immediately. The management should ensure all office users are aware of any changes to the floors such as replacement of tile with carpet. Furthermore, all personnel should wear comfortable shoes that offer a good grip on the floor (University of South Wales 2017).
Misuse of Office Equipment. A significant percentage of office injuries result from persons using office equipment improperly. For instance, most falls occur when employees attempt to reach or put something away by climbing desks, tables, or chairs, which are not designed to hold their weight or stable enough under such conditions. Therefore, the management should ensure that there are specially designed ladders or steps strategically placed for employees to use as climbing tools. Moreover, employees should not use a ladder to climb heights that are beyond its designation.
Cuts and punctures. Cuts and punctures in the office result from poorly stored items. For instance, razor blades and other sharp objects stored disorderly could injure a person reaching for an item inside the drawer. It is therefore, advisable to ensure that all sharp objects such as razors, scissors, sharp pencils, and envelope openers are stored inside a clearly labeled mug or cup placed on top of the desk.
Poor lighting. Poor lighting is a common source of many injuries such as eyestrain, headaches, tripping, and being hit by objects. Offices should therefore, be specially designed to allow proper lighting in all areas. Furthermore, all dark areas should be properly labeled to caution the users and prompt them to watch their footing.
Poor ventilation. Offices that are poorly ventilated pose a significant amount of harm to the users, such as choking, fatigue, and light-headedness due to poor oxygen supply, and the high risk of spreading airborne diseases. The design of the office should take into consideration the number of the people accessing the area at any given time and offer adequate air conditioning and ventilating systems to ensure fresh air at all times.
Work at height. This accounts for the most number of fatalities among all workplace activities. Therefore, construction managers should ensure that all activities adhere to the Work at Height Regulations. Such activities include window cleaning, maintenance work at height, tree surgery, and changing of lamps. The regulations do not have minimum height requirements for their applications, and hence include all activities where an individual is at risk of falling and being injured. Some of the typical activities where the regulation applies include dipping a road tanker or sheeting a lorry; working on a scaffold or using a mobile elevated platform; climbing permanent structures, such as a telephone pole or gantry; working on trestles or staging; or using a ladder among others (Occupational Safety and Health Council 2004).
According to the regulations, work should not be performed at height when it is practical to perform it on the ground. For instance, all assembly work should be performed at the ground level unless it is practically impossible. While working at height, the employer is supposed to take suitable and adequate measures to prevent any individual from falling. Secondly, he or she is supposed to minimize the distance and consequences of a fall as much as possible (Workplace Law Group 2011). Practical safety measures include the provision of well-constructed working platforms that are equipped with guardrails and toe boards, use of suspension equipment, and the installation of collective fall arrest equipment such as safety nets or air bags.
Fragile surfaces and roofs. Constriction sites are characterized by persons working on or near fragile surfaces. Working on roofs, especially the pitched ones is highly hazardous and requires proper risk assessment and method statement before such works commence. Specific hazards that are associated with such roofs include fragile roofing material, unsafe access equipment, exposed edges, and falls from purlins, ridges, and girders. It is critical for the management to ensure the installment of suitable means of accessing, such as ladders, scaffolding, and crawling boards. Furthermore, there should be adequate guardrails, barriers, or covers in addition to warning signs displayed at the ground level (Occupational Safety and Health Administration 2005).
Falling objects. Construction sites are exposed to high risks of objects falling on people and causing harm. The Work at Height Regulations stipulates that the management should ensure that adequate measures are put in place to protect both construction workers and members of the public from falling objects. Some of the possible protective measures include the installation of netting and covered walkways to catch the falling debris. Furthermore, proper equipment should be used to bring waste material to ground level as opposed to carelessly hurling it to the ground. Additionally, all personnel within the site are required to wear protective gear such as hard hats and helmets. However, a controversial provision by the regulation is that Sikhs wearing turbans are exempted from wearing helmets (Chappelle 2005).
Demolition. This is considered one of the most hazardous activities in a construction site. The operation is responsible for the deaths and injury of countless individuals, including damage to property. Some of the specific hazards that are associated with demolition include falling debris especially when explosives are used, falls from height or the same level, electric shock, collision with heavy objects, damage to property, fires and explosions, and contact with hazardous material such as asbestos. Therefore, the management should ensure that the demolition site is secured, and only the required and trained personnel are allowed within the area. All persons within close proximity are supposed to be supplied with protective headgear with the existing pathways well covered (Health and Safety Executive 2006).
The paper finds that workplaces are highly complex environments characterized by a wide range of hazards. Some of the common hazards in the office workplace include hot liquid burns, slipping tripping or falling, misuse of office equipment, cuts and punctures, poor lighting, and poor ventilation. Hazards that are common in construction sites include work at height, fragile surfaces and roofs, falling objects, and demolitions. Each hazard is associated with its unique set of measures that aim at controlling and minimizing the risk of occurrences. However, it is not possible to get rid of all hazards and one can only be minimize their chances of occurrence. Although there are policies and regulations that govern organization health and safety, the most appropriate approach is to pre-empt disasters, where the owners of the workplace make concerted efforts to keep the workplace safe.
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