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Common Hazards in the Workplace

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Written by Steve Hudgik

When we think of workplace hazards we may think of spilled chemicals, equipment with moving parts or machines that grind things up. They are hazards we can readily see. But, these are not the things that cause the most injuries. They are not the most common hazards in the workplace.

What are the most frequent types of injuries in the workplace?

The most common type of workplace injuries are sprains and strains, most often involving the back. They account for 43% of the 1.3 million injuries and illnesses in private industry that required more than a day away from work.

When bruises, contusions, cuts, lacerations and fractures are added to sprains and strains the combined total is nearly two-thirds of all workplace accidents that required at least a day away from work for recovery.

Which industries have the most workplace injuries?

Sprains and strains were the leading injury in every major industry. The greatest percentage of these, 33 percent, happen in the trade, transportation and utilities industries. An additional 19 percent occur in education and health services.

What type of jobs have the most workplace injuries?

The top three occupations with the overall greatest number of injuries and illnesses are:

  1. laborers and material movers
  2. heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
  3. nursing aides, orderlies and attendants

Laborers and material movers, and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers often suffered sprains and strains to the trunk or lower extremities. These result from overexertion, or contacting objects or equipment.

Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants predominantly suffered sprains and strains to their trunk, most often their backs. These injuries most often resulted from overexertion when lifting or moving patients.

What are the common hazards in the workplace?

What types of events caused these injuries? In 2011, for all workplaces, 40 percent of all injuries and illnesses were caused by one of three types of hazards:

  • falls on the same level (15% - median 10 days to recover)
  • struck by object or equipment (13% - median 5 days to recover)
  • overexertion in lifting or lowering (12% - median 5 days to recover)

Common hazards in the workplace - Slip and fall prevention

There is a lot of focus on preventing falls from a height and falls from ladders. However, the most common falls are those that happen on the same level. These result from slips, trips and falls, known as STF.

Spilled, dripped and splashed liquids on floors are the leading cause of STF incidents. Fluids such as water, oil and grease make floors very slippery. The keys to preventing slips include:

  • well-documented housekeeping procedures
  • quick and proper clean up of fluids on floors
  • proper usage of mats
  • comprehensive use of signs
  • easily accessible clean-up materials
  • using slip-resistant shoes

Where do STF hazards most frequently occur?

  • Near building entrances, where rain and snow are tracked inside
  • Loading docks and other areas that open to the outside
  • Food services areas such as kitchens and cafeteria
  • Near ice machines, freezers, dishwashers, sinks, and drains.
  • In liquid transfer areas where fluids are received, transferred or loaded.
  • Near restrooms and soap dispensers
  • Near drinking fountains

STF Prevention Strategies

Start with a written housekeeping program. A written housekeeping program will help ensure the quality and consistency of clean-up procedures. The program should:

  • Describe how to immediately contact the facility maintenance or housekeeping department
  • Identify hazardous materials and provide a reference to the appropriate procedures and documents
  • Describe where cleaning materials and products are stored
  • Specify when to use wet floor signs and barriers, and where signs are stored
  • Describe when and how specific areas of the facility should be cleaned
  • Identify the appropriate cleaning methods for different areas and surfaces

Keep floors clean and dry

Encourage workers to cover, clean, or report non-hazardous spills promptly. (Note: hazardous spills are covered by other procedures.)

Provide appropriate materials so that employees can quickly mark spill areas to warn others about the hazard. When appropriate, provide spill clean-up materials in convenient locations so employees have easy access to products to clean, cover, and highlight a spill.

Mark areas that can become wet and slippery, such as loading docks and entrances, with signs that warn people to use extra caution. Provide contact phone numbers on the signs so that the maintenance or housekeeping department can be notified should the floor become wet or slippery.

Place water-absorbent walk-off mats where water, ice, or soap may drip onto the floor. Use beveled-edge, flat, and continuous mats. In addition, drip pans on ice machines and food carts should be properly maintained so that water does not spill onto the floor.

Provide walk-off mats, paper towel holders, trash cans, and umbrella bags near entrances and water fountains to minimize wet floors. Mats should be large enough so that several footsteps will take place on the mat. If there is water around or beyond the mat, it means that the mat is not large enough, or that the mat is saturated and needs to be replaced. Mat should have slip-resistant backing to prevent their moving while someone is walking on them.

Employees who must be in areas prone to spills or in areas that often have slippery floors, such as dish washing areas, should wear shoes that are slip-resistant. Slip-resistant shoes are an important component of a comprehensive STF prevention program. Food services, housekeeping, and maintenance staff are at greatest risk for a STF due to exposure slippery walking surfaces.

Shoe fit, comfort, and style are important factors that determine whether employees will wear their slip-resistant shoes. Provide employees with the opportunity to try on shoes before purchasing them, or allow shoes to be exchanged as needed to obtain proper fit.

Common hazards in the workplace - Preventing struck-by accidents

One of the most common struck-by accidents is being struck by a vehicle. A key prevention strategy is one of the simplest - be alert and aware of what is happening around you. For example, never stand or walk behind construction equipment, trucks or other vehicles. When driving a vehicle obey all traffic rules and signs, minimize distractions, inspect and properly maintain vehicles, use safety belts, and always turn on the headlights.

Other common struck by accidents result from:

  1. Struck by falling objects
  2. Struck by flying objects
  3. Struck by swinging or slipping objects
  4. Struck by objects on ground level

Preventing struck-by accidents involves individual workers doing the right things. You can't always depend on others to protect you. But, you can depend on yourself to protect you and others. Always be aware of, and evaluate your surroundings. Be alert and aware of where you are and what is happening around you. Look for the following types of hazards:

  • Do not go underneath elevated work surfaces. Working or walking below an elevated work surface may expose you to falling objects.
  • Watch for materials being moved overhead. Never walk underneath a suspended or moving load. If you are the one moving the load, ensure all all loads are properly secured and lift them evenly to prevent them from slipping.
  • Report any incorrectly stored materials that may fall from overhead locations.
  • Be aware of others using power tools such as grinders, and activities such as pushing, pulling, or prying. These types of activities can create flying objects. Stay away from areas where these types of activities are taking place. If you must be in these areas, always have the proper PPE such as a hard had, eye protection, long sleeves and other PPE that is appropriate for the hazard.
  • Remember that pressurized air above 30 psi can drive oils and other particles through your skin. Do not use pressurized air for cleaning a floor, us a broom or mop instead.

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Common hazards in the workplace - Lifting and Lowering

Lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing and pulling are all activities that can cause strains and sprains, particularly when combined with heavy loads, twisting movements, or working in awkward positions. As with any activity, think about the consequences before doing something that might cause an injury.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Any physical exertion, especially when in an awkward position, can result in a strain-related injury.
  • Back, neck, and shoulder pain are common signs of physical stress.
  • Change how tasks are done to eliminate the action or condition that may cause a strain or sprain.
  • Remember, just because you did something previously without getting hurt, does not mean you will not experience a strain or sprain the next time.

The follows are work practices that will help prevent strains and sprains:

  • When lifting bend at the knees, not at the waist.
  • Hold loads close to your body when lifting or carrying.
  • Move your feet to turn your whole body, don't twist, when lifting and lowering objects.
  • Avoid squatting, over-reaching, bent-over postures, and repeated forceful gripping.
  • Whenever possible use carts and dollies to move materials.
  • Change tasks and postures frequently to avoid repetitive stress.
  • Avoid lifting objects from the floor or from above your shoulders.
  • Place handles on containers and use the right tools for the job.
  • Remember you will not always be as young as you are now. Create good work habits while you are young and you'll have less pain in the future.

Common hazards in the workplace - The Role of Labels and Signs

Many of the common hazards in the workplace are things we see and do everyday. They become part of our normal work environment and we no longer see them as hazards, until we are injured. That's one reason why labels and signs are needed. Signs provide warning information right were it is needed. They let people know about the hazard and ensure the hazard is not ignored. They remind people about hazards and help replace bad work practices with good work habits.

DuraLabel printers give you the flexibility to make whatever safety signs you need. From OSHA and ANSI compliant safety signs to humorous safety reminders, DuraLabel custom printers easily get the job done. Plus you get the only label printers that come with a three year warranty at no extra charge. And you get tough-tested DuraLabel supplies, the only supplies with a five year warranty on the labels and signs you make. Call 1-888-326-9244 today for more information.


The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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