Different industries have different hazards. Working in construction increases the risk of slips, trips and falls, whereas office workers are prone to ergonomic-influenced injuries.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implement regulations in decreasing accidents and diseases. Stricter controls, higher breach fines and better guidance improve working conditions.
However, these regulations focus on extreme cases, where chemicals cause severe illnesses. The hidden danger lies the substances initially appearing harmless.
Unknown workplace dangers
Heavy industrial machinery is notoriously risky. However, dangerous substance exposure is often overlooked.
Some chemicals, including asbestos, can cause cancer. As a result, they require special handling and labelling. Asbestos is now banned in the EU, after years of unawareness surrounding its deadly consequences.
Moreover, asbestos' dangers were known for a decade before regulations finally prohibited it.
However, for less obviously dangerous substances, it gets complicated.
For example, flour can cause a runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Over a long period of time, fine dust exposure can trigger asthma and other lung diseases. Bakery work has underlying risks, despite its good first impressions.
Paint, ink, glue, detergent or beauty products may seem innocuous, but they have health risks too.
Moreover, excessive handling of wet substances - flowers, fruit, vegetables and bulbs - can lead to dermatitis and fungus infections.
Welders, quarry workers or woodworkers' exposure to fume-laden air triggers lung diseases. Wet cement can lead to chemical burns. Long-time exposure to pesticides increases the risk of developing leukaemia ... the list is long.
OSHA attempted to ban substances causing lung cancer for decades. However, these efforts are sparse and time-consuming. It often takes many years for a new regulation to enforce.
The EU-OSHA is campaigning to raise awareness and provide employers tips on managing risks.
The campaign will run until the end of 2019 and will issue certificates for the firms involved.
A company’s responsibility
Employees are often unaware of a substance's health risks, making safeguarding difficult. Workers should always be an employer's top concern.
Managers should encourage their workers in creating a sustainable, healthy work life. That includes regular training and extensive education on dangerous chemicals.
Safe work practices vary. However, some simple guidelines apply to all: treat cleaning chemicals with care, and ventilate enclosed spaces holding dangerous substances. Also, correctly disposing substances avoids accidents down the line.
An extensive chemical safety exposure plan is important when working with dangerous substances. Measuring the concentration of substances in the air is essential. In the UK, the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) helps set up exposure plans.
On the other hand, sticking to official guidelines and classifications on toxic chemicals is not enough. Guidelines are not extensive and often only cover the most dangerous substances.
How to take action
Health and safety is the priority. The chemical industry want as many products on the market as possible. Those directly exposed to dangerous substances must take the initiative when protecting their health.
Don’t blindly accept company recommendations. Research working conditions, whether you're in front of the computer or at a construction site. Well-being is more important than completing work quickly.
Remind staff of workplace dangers by using safety signs. Download our health and safety icons pack here!