Employers in the U.S. spend more than a billion a week on serious workplace injuries, with overexertion heading the top ten causes list.
You are entitled to a safe working environment. The 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was put in place to protect workers from risks such as death or serious injury at work. The legislation requires companies to provide their employees with workplace conditions that are free from known health hazards.
Workers can file a formal complaint asking OSHA to evaluate their workplace if they consider their employer does not meet OSHA guidelines or they feel under threat of serious health risks.
Depending on your line of activity, certain hazards are more likely to occur than others but they can be divided into four main categories.
Common Workplace Hazards
The first category is that of physical hazards and can include slips, trips, falls and health consequences linked to vibration and noise.
Second one is ergonomic hazards that pertain to physical factors such as repetitive movement, manual handling and being forced into poor body positioning that negatively impact the body’s musculoskeletal system.
Chemical hazards comprise exposure to any dangerous chemicals that can harm the employees’ health.
Biological hazards imply exposure to dangerous bacteria and viruses that can lead to diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
Common Work-Related Diseases
The most common work-related diseases are:
- Musculoskeletaldisorders – generallyaffecting the back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs, but may also involve the lower limbs. They can result in minor symptoms such as aches and pains but can also cause more serious medical conditions that require medical intervention and time off work. In the worst-case scenario, the employee can end up with a disability that forces them to give up working.
Most cases develop over a longer period and result from a combination of factors such as:
- Handling loads – particularly from movements such as bending or twisting
- Repetitive and strenuous motions
- Static or uncomfortable body postures
- Working with vibrating tools for long periods or working under poor lighting or low temperature conditions
- Rapid-pace activities
- Extended sitting or standing
In order to protect employees from developing symptoms the workplace layout has to be adapted as to offer conditions that allow for good posture, the equipment should be ergonomically designed to protect joints, if repetitive work can’t be avoided suitable breaks and rotation practices should be implements and the company needs to provide adequate training so that these high-risk activities can be conducted as safely as possible.
Management also should consider health monitoring, rehabilitation and reintegration of their workers.
- Mental health and stress – poor working conditions and organizational issues can cause employees to develop mental health problems. These are clinically significant outcomes with symptoms such as altered pattern of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that cause impaired functioning in the individual.
Mental health problems have serious consequences not only on the employees but on the company’s performance. Staff efficiency, medical leave frequency, absenteeism, injuries and turnover are all influenced by the mental health status of the workforce.
Actions to improve and protect mental health at the organizational level have a strong emphasis on taking early measures to prevent the accumulation of stress and creating a work culture that supports workers who are struggling.
- Occupational cancer – In the United States, approximately 48,000 cases of cancers are diagnosed and linked to occupational factors, this means between 4 and 10% of total cases in the country.
Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, carcinogens, can trigger mutations that make cells grow out of control, leading to a cancer diagnosis. Industrial cancer-related operations include the production of aluminum, iron and steel foundingand mining.
Working in shifts, because it disrupts the circadian rhythm, has also been shown to increase the risk of developing cancer, particularly breast cancer.
A large percentage of occupational cancers can be prevented so long as employers respect the governmental safety tips for work such as having employees wear personal protective equipment, conducting workplace safety screening and educating the staff on how to avoid exposure to carcinogens.
- Skin diseases – Although there are genetic factors that can influence the likelihood of developing occupational dermatoses, exposing the employees to chemical, physical and biological hazards plays a big part. Most cases are linked to work activities involving water or other wet substances, contaminants in the environment and ultraviolet radiation.Contact dermatitis is the most frequent and can pose a significant threat to the person’s ability to work.
The method of diagnosis and treatment is the same as for non-occupational cases. The doctor will evaluate clinical signs in relation to patient history and conduct the required tests.
Prevention requires risk assessments of the work environment, reducing or eliminating skin contact with irritants, supplying the staff with suitable safety equipment such as gloves as well as skin cleaning agents and rehydration products.
- Biological agents – People working in certain sectors like those of medical and veterinary services, laboratories, waste management and agriculture are especially vulnerable.
Such workers may have to work with microbes directly, or are exposed to them through contact with body fluids or soil. As long as the source of the exposure is known, avoidance of adverse health effects is relatively straightforward. The most difficult cases are the ones in which the source remains unknown.
Most people are aware of the fact that you can receive compensation if you are involved in a work-related accident, but fewer know that this option is also available if you are suffering from a job-related illness.
Although it may be harder to access than an injury claim, as long as you can show a link between your condition and the tasks your job entails, you should be able to get the compensation you are entitled to.
You don’t have to prove that the outcome was a result of your boss’s negligence or ill-will and if he or she tries to persuade you to not file a claim by offering you some sort of financial incentive or otherwise, this is illegal and you have the right to refuse. You are free to pursue a compensation claim without any fear of harassment or retaliation and if theymake this process difficult for you, the penalties imposed on them are quite severe.