Today’s post is one about the dangers of asbestos in the workplace. Many of us may think it is no longer an issue, but it, in reality, it is an everyday occurrence. This guest post was written to raise awareness, in light of global asbestos awareness in April.
No employer wants to risk the health of its employees, but approximately 80,000 office and administrative workers still endure a work-related injury each year. Lack of time, money, and resources are often to blame for workplace safety shortcomings.
Addressing often overlooked hazards before they become a problem, like environmental toxins and body strain, could prevent many of these office injuries. We’ve discussed a few health hazards that Human Resources professionals should be aware of, along with tips to address them.
Workplace hazards usually conjure up images of slips, trips, and falls. As serious as those instances are, it’s also important to be aware of the not-so-obvious dangers generally go unseen.
For some people, mold and other allergens like dust and dander can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms, including eye and throat irritation, coughing, or itchy skin. Exposure to such allergens, especially over an extended period of time, could greatly hinder an employee’s productivity.
While surveying a workplace for allergens, pay extra attention to lower levels, basements, and offices receiving very little sunlight. Bring in a professional if these areas have not been inspected or if employees have been complaining about allergy symptoms heightening while at work.
It isn’t uncommon to find asbestos inside older office buildings. Prior to 1980, it was heavily used in building materials because of its affordability and fire resistant properties. Often found in flooring, insulation, piping, furnace cement, and ceiling tiles, asbestos products are relatively harmless if left untouched and remain in good condition. The danger surfaces when asbestos products are damaged, like during a renovation or because of natural decay, causing asbestos fibers to become airborne. Loose asbestos fibers within an office building may increase an employee’s risk of developing mesothelioma cancer years later. Symptoms of this cancer are similar to those of the flu, making it difficult to diagnose. Once cancer has been correctly identified, the prognosis is poor, with most patients living less than one year.
New installations like flooring, painting, and construction may visually encourage employee productivity, but the beginning stages of a renovation often generate strong smells and involve harsh chemicals. During a renovation project, ensure employee workspaces are safe and comfortable. Place portable fans within the workspace and use proper ventilation. If the area is unsuitable for employees to occupy for a full day, designate a temporary workspace away from the fumes.
Ergonomics, the practice of fitting the job to a person, helps prevent injuries developed over time. Injuries such as eye strain, musculoskeletal issues, back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome develop gradually, usually because of extended computer use and prolonged sitting with poor posture.
Computer Use and Poor Posture
Many jobs today require computer use, and some even require computer work for the full eight hours of a typical day. Computer use presents a unique issue with many possible avenues for injury. Overexposure to blue light emitted by a monitor may cause chronic headaches, double vision, and eye irritation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests dimming overhead lights and utilizing work lamps to minimize glare and unnecessary eye strain.
Excessive sitting is usually coupled with prolonged computer use and has negative health effects of its own. Over time, the posture of an employee spending most of their day behind a computer may deteriorate, setting them up for spine and disk damage in the future. Extended sitting may also induce poor circulation and even blood clots, especially in older employees. In addition to reducing glare, encourage employees to regularly get up and move around. Each workstation should have properly positioned monitors and keyboards to prevent neck pain and carpal tunnel. Standing desks are a great option if your organization’s budget allows.
Human Resources and Employee Safety
Businesses are often incredibly busy handling day-to-day issues and concerns. Unfortunately, focusing on potential workplace hazards may not make it to the top of management’s to-do list until an employee is seriously injured. To prevent injuries before they happen, worker safety needs to become a main focus for all employees, not just those in Human Resources.
How can HR set up a system to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses? As a guideline, the United States Department of Labor has established Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs. Steps include collecting existing data, inspecting the workplace, identifying hazards, conducting incident investigations, establishing or updating safety protocols, and revisiting established hazards periodically.
Make health and safety part of your company culture by allowing employees to feel comfortable addressing their health and safety concerns with the human resources department. A safe and healthy employee tends to be a productive one!
The author is Emily Walsh with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Their goal is to spread awareness about mesothelioma, a rare but preventable cancer in the lungs caused by asbestos exposure. They are currently focused on raising awareness about this rare cancer while educating about the continued dangers of asbestos, which remains legal and used to this day in the United States and many other countries around the world.