Seven workplace hazards that are risking employee safety
Heavy workloads and high-stress levels. Are employees stressed, working long hours or skipping breaks as they struggle to meet the demands of their jobs? Work-related stress is the second most common compensated illness or injury in Australia. It can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue, psychological symptoms such as anxiety, sleep loss and depression, or behavioural symptoms such as mood swings. These can contribute to long-term health complications such as sleep loss and even diabetes.
Concealed bullying and harassment. We tend to think of managers as the main perpetrators of workplace bullying and harassment. But SAI Global auditors have identified the behaviour among junior-to-mid-level employees, contractors and even external suppliers. Bullying and harassment includes hurtful remarks, playing mind games, making one feeling undervalued, assigning pointless tasks that have nothing to do with a person’s job, giving impossible KPIs or jobs, changing work schedules to make it difficult for the employee, or being required to do humiliating things to be accepted in a team. Being at the receiving end of bullying and harassment can cause emotional trauma and lead to mental health injuries.
Basic clutter. Do staff need to meander around stacked boxes, plants, artworks, bags on floors or courier deliveries placed in access areas? These present trip or collision risks for anyone in the workplace, especially when they are distracted, carrying items or turning corners. SAI Global recommends that employers organise regular workplace ‘housekeeping’ or inspections to identify potential obstacles that might create hazards. Conduct risk assessments. Implement a program to sort through workplace items, ensure every item has a predetermined storage location when not used, have the workplace cleaned daily, onboard all employees on the new set of standards and ensure the new habits are adopted.
Blocking fire safety equipment. Are bookshelves or tall furniture pieces blocking fire exits, sprinkler heads, fire hoses or fire hydrants? These can obstruct the use or efficiency of fire safety equipment in the case of an emergency. Management should ensure fire safety equipment has one-metre-clear zones marked by signage, workplaces have regular safety inspections, and there is preventative maintenance in place for essential services.
Non-adjustable desks, chairs and monitors. Think height adjustable desks are a bit of a fad? Not so. Desks, chairs and monitors that can’t be adapted to employee needs can lead to injuries. Research led by the University of Sydney found that lower back pain accounts for a third of all work-related disability. While employers might be reluctant to incur the expense of ergonomic equipment, the cost of compensation claims as a can far outweigh the investment.
Extreme workplace temperatures. Are desks positioned beneath air-conditioning vents, or in draughts? Or is direct sunlight causing ‘hot spots’ in the office in summer? Employee complaints related to temperature are common. Ideally, interior workplaces should be a comfortable even temperature of 22 degrees in summer and 24 degrees in winter. Heat and cold stress can impact our health. An employee falling ill because they were forced to work in uncomfortable conditions can lead to days off work, and even a workers compensation claim.
An employer’s lack of commitment to safety. If you can’t remember seeing a company WHS policy, you have a major employee safety issue. You still have an issue if your company does have a WHS program, but not every person working under the organisation – including contractors, volunteers and interns – is included and consulted into it. SAI Global auditors have seen organisations with good programs in place, but which have not been taken on board by management. When staff are not educated about potential workplace hazards, risks and good safety practices, injuries and illnesses are more likely to occur. The relevant manager should take all staff through the company’s WHS policy and take practical steps to demonstrate that their safety is their priority. A safe culture is directly linked to productive workplaces. If a supervisor or manager does something unsafe, it’s likely that other workers will follow suit.
Rod Beath, workplace safety spokesperson at SAI Global says, “Workplace safety is non-negotiable, no matter what industry you’re in. Not complying with the Workplace Health and Safety Act can result in thousands of dollars in litigation costs, a drain on resources, potential loss of time, illness an injuries, increased WorkCover claims, a damaged brand reputation – and, of greatest concern, potential fatalities.”
Employers are required by law to provide a safe, risk-free work environment for all employees. This will include assessing and monitoring the workplace for risks, and listening to and consulting all workers.