A Look at Common Physical Health Hazards in the Workplace

Workers can suffer physical harm in a number of ways at the workplace. Some ailments happen immediately, others take years to develop.

Work-Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULDs): A term used to indicate injuries of the upper body, such as carpal tunnel syndrome (inflamed tendons at the wrist which in turn place pressure on the nerves). Other types include tendinitis, usually at the elbows or shoulders and frozen shoulder.

Back Injuries: Includes muscle strain, ligament sprains, and injuries to the inter-vertebral disks.

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS): Occurs because of vibrations to a certain part of the body, or to the entire body. Over time this will cause severe nerve, muscle, and circulation problems which are usually not-reversible. Workers that use things like jack-hammers, electric chain saws, or drive tractors, can suffer these injuries.

Eye Strain: Can result from staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time.

Eye Damage: If foreign substances enter the eye and cause damage.

Hearing Damage: Results from too much noise for prolonged time periods. Noise over 85 dB is considered hazardous, more so if it continues all day at work. A small increase in decibels represents a very large increase in intensity. If there is noise at a work site it should be measured, and controlled if it is found to be excessive.

These health hazards are further exacerbated by many of the following factors:

  • Poor posture such as sitting in a slouch position.
  • Prolonged periods in the same position, especially if bent over e.g. crop pickers.
  • Repetitive movements with minimal breaks or change in tasks e.g. typing.
  • The force that is required to perform the task e.g. shoveling.
  • Repetitive twisting of the back while shoveling or the wrist while using a screwdriver.
  • Continuing with the task even after warning signs appear, which for sure will make the injury worse.

There are other factors that can cause injury, which require specialized training and strict protocol. For example, radiation, excessive heat or cold.

Preventive Measures

  • If possible eliminate the source of the hazard.
  • Substitute e.g. get a better quality machine that vibrates less.
  • Isolate the hazard e.g. enclose the machine that is noisy.
  • Maintain machines so they are less hazardous.
  • Share the work with someone else to limit exposure.
  • Change work techniques.
  • Look at ergonomics and make changes where appropriate e.g. chair height.
  • Use PPEs e.g. safety goggles, gloves, and hearing protection.
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