A Safety Alert is short guidance material published by Systems on a Shoestring that highlights an incident or unsafe practice to industry. Safety Alerts outlines required action to be taken to prevent the incident from reoccurring or to prevent the unsafe practice.
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Alcohol in the Workplace
It may be quite common to enjoy a few alcoholic drinks in the evenings or on weekends, but the topic of drinking on the job should be approached very cautiously. There may be a time or two, where employees sharing drinks together may be acceptable, but these will probably be limited to holiday functions and the occasional after work celebration. Employers will need to go to great lengths to ensure that employees are not placed in harm’s way while driving home from a company function as the liability could potentially fall to the employer. The National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD) estimates that from 2001-2002, 7.5% of work-related injuries were alcohol related. As far as normal work hours and duties are concerned, alcoholic beverages should not be considered appropriate at any time. Many businesses rely on employees to operate equipment, drive company vehicles and perform many other tasks that if left to cloudy decision making could lead to serious workplace injuries and increased liability for employers. Steps should be taken to consider the potential for these scenarios and how to best prepare for dealing with situations that could arise.
In a recent 10 year period (2003 to 2012) vehicles were involved in two-thirds of worker fatalities, which included both traffic and non-traffic incidents (Safe Work Australia). This is an alarming number and it really places a significant emphasis on the need to do everything possible to protect employees travelling and working on our roadways. Ensuring that your vehicle fleet is being maintained adequately is a critical component to keeping employees safe on the roads. A comprehensive fleet policy is another important way to influence safe driving behaviors. Driver training can be one of the best ways to get started in preparing employees to encounter various hazards presented on the road. There are a number of specialized training areas that include topics such as defensive driving and extreme weather driving.
Hearing loss is one of the most permanent types of workplace injuries that can and probably will remain with employees for the rest of their lives. As an employer, it’s critical to ensure that your staff understands the risk, that you have identified areas of your workplace that pose a risk, and that you have done everything possible to try and protect your employees. In 2010-2011, deafness accounted for 3.6% of all serious workplace injuries, which equated to 4,583 workers’ compensation claims (Safe Work Australia). Hearing protection is at times the last line of defense for protecting employees, but it’s critical that they understand when and how to use it and their required use should be enforced.
Equipment can take many different forms including machinery, tools, and personal protective equipment. Some of this equipment has a short life span, like that of a dust mask that may only last for a single use, while other equipment such as a lathe that could last for 30 years or more. Some equipment requires routine maintenance and cleaning while others may not. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instruction for routine maintenance and care. Failure to properly maintain equipment can lead to a wide variety of injuries that could include cuts, lacerations, slips, crushing, struck-by, caught-in and a number of other types of injuries that can be the result of mechanical failure or protective equipment not providing adequate levels of protection.
Fatigue in the Workplace
There can be many different effects of fatigue on workers including things that impact concentration, distraction, decision making, vigilance, recognizing risks, coordination, and communication. Fatigue can certainly lead to mistakes being made at work and also an increased likelihood in accidents or injuries. It’s important to consider both work related and non-work related factors that influence a workers’ level of fatigue and to then consider what can be done to increase awareness in these areas and to help minimize or eliminate their influence.
Common Areas in the Workplace
There are a number of areas that we share with coworkers on a regular basis; these may include kitchens, loos, lounges, smoking areas, and job-site trailers. A little messiness here and there can lead up to some big problems with significant unintended consequences. Unsanitary kitchen and loo practices can lead to harmful bacteria being transmitted in a number of ways. If left unclean, refrigerators can host e. coli, staphylococcus and even listeria. It’s critically important to determine how these spaces will be cared for and to establish some rules for their use as well.
Excavators, backhoes and other digging plant can lead to serious workplace accidents that can result in equipment and property damage, serious injury or even death. In the 10 years spanning 2003 to 2012, 25 workers have died from injuries involving this equipment (safe work Australia). In 2012, excavators were also responsible for the deaths of 3 pedestrians (safe work Australia). While self-propelled plant serves the important purpose of easily moving soil or rock on a site, they pose a wide variety of hazards including ground collapse, water inrush, falls, hazardous manual tasks, airborne contaminants, buried contaminants, and underground services. It’s important to ensure that each self-propelled plant operator has been trained and is considered competent. Non-operator workers present in areas with self-propelled plant traffic should also be familiar with working safely around these vehicles.
Illicit drugs, prescription, and over-the-counter medication can affect an employee’s ability to make decisions, exercise sound judgment, and operate equipment safely. Approximately 2% of work related deaths can be attributed to illicit drug use. The types of drugs that contributed to these deaths include amphetamines, cannabis, barbiturates and narcotics (Safe Work Australia). In 1998, The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission found that stimulants were found to have contributed to 14 workplace deaths involving motor vehicle accidents over a 4 year period. There are controls to aide in discouraging illicit drug use or misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications including a written company policy and an effective drug testing program including post-accident testing. There may be some limitations with regards to prescription medication, but it’s important to ensure that employees know to follow the dosing instructions and that certain side effects may require employees to keep from completing normal job duties while taking these medications (i.e. do not operate heavy machinery).
Power industrial vehicles can lead to serious workplace accidents that can result in equipment and property damage, serious injury or even death. In the 10 years spanning 2003 to 2012, 50 workers have died falling from injuries involving forklifts (Safe Work Australia). While forklifts serve a great purpose of easily moving materials and equipment throughout a facility, they pose a wide variety of hazards including falling loads, pedestrian accidents, driving off of loading docks, falls between docks and unsecured trailers, struck-by incidents and falls from an elevation. It’s important to ensure that each forklift operator has been trained and is considered competent. Pedestrian workers present in areas with forklift traffic should also be familiar with working safety around these vehicles.
Do you have similar safety risks in your workplace?
- Does your business utilize forklifts to move materials?
- Have your forklift operators received formal training?
- Are daily inspections performed on your forklifts?
Falls from an elevation can cause serious injuries to employees. Workers injured as a result of a ladder fall can find themselves facing permanent injury or even death. In the 10 years spanning 2003 to 2012, 46 workers have died falling from a ladder (Safe Work Australia). These falls can be caused by many factors including improper setup/use, defective ladders, and wrong ladder type. Many of these injuries can be prevented with some advance preparation.
Do you have similar safety risks in your workplace?
- Are ladders routinely utilized by your place of business?
- Do you routinely inspect your ladders?
- Is there a chance that an employee could fall from a ladder?