Running a business is not only about generating profits and building a reputation for client satisfaction. As an employer, you have an ethical responsibility for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment. Threats like slip-and-fall, electrocution, and falling objects abound in workplaces. Beyond these conventional risks, hazardous exposures can lead to injuries, illnesses, and long-term health consequences.
OSHA notes that American workers use thousands of chemicals every day. Many of these substances are suspected of being harmful, but only a few are regulated. Consequently, 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths related to chemical exposures are reported annually. Hazardous chemical exposures at workplaces are linked to cancers, reproductive diseases, and other lung, kidney, skin, heart, stomach, brain, and nerve conditions.
Employers must do their bit to mitigate these risks with effective strategies to identify, assess, and minimize hazardous exposures. In this article, we will share a few strategies you can adopt to promote a culture of safety in the workplace.
The initial step to address the risk of hazardous exposures is to conduct comprehensive hazard assessments. Employers must evaluate all aspects of the work environment to identify potential risks in the workplace.
- Physical hazards: Machinery, chemicals, noise
- Ergonomic hazards: Repetitive tasks, awkward postures
- Biological hazards: Pathogens
- Psychosocial hazards: Workplace violence, stress
Besides these common threats, a few industry-specific hazards are prevalent in some industries. For example, firefighters deal with the hidden dangers of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF exposure), a dangerous chemical in firefighting foam. The increasing number of AFFF lawsuits has brought this risk into the limelight in recent years.
TruLaw notes that firefighting foam contains PFAS chemicals, which stay in the human body forever and cause the risk of diseases like cancer and reproductive issues. Besides firefighters, military personnel, airport workers, and industrial employees are at risk of AFFF exposure. Knowing these risks enables employers to develop targeted strategies to control exposures effectively.
Several industries, such as mining, construction, chemical, and pharmaceuticals, rely on personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize hazardous exposures. Healthcare workers and firefighters also use PPE to ensure safety. Employers should provide appropriate PPE to employees according to the hazards they face.
This may include respiratory protection for airborne contaminants, gloves and protective clothing for chemical exposures, hearing protection for noisy environments, and safety goggles for eye protection. Besides providing PPEs, employers must also ensure they are used according to manufacturer instructions and regulatory requirements. Proper maintenance and timely replacement are also essential.
Another tip to minimize the threat of hazardous exposure at your workplace is to involve and engage your employees. Since employees are on ground zero, they can help you identify hazards, develop appropriate control measures, and implement safety initiatives. Encourage employees to report hazards or near misses promptly so that you can address threats promptly.
You can also establish safety committees and conduct regular safety meetings to increase employee involvement. Recognize and reward them for their contributions to workplace safety. Additionally, you should create opportunities for ongoing education and training. These steps enable you to foster a culture of safety for your organization in the long run.
Engineering controls refer to physical modifications at the potential source to eliminate or minimize hazardous exposures. For example, you can implement ventilation systems to control exposure to airborne contaminants and automate certain processes to minimize manual handling of hazardous materials.
Implement these changes whenever feasible to reduce exposure to a minimum. While these engineering controls may entail hefty investments, consider them wise moves to prevent workplace accidents and lawsuits. With the cost of injuries and illnesses caused due to workplace exposures reaching $3.35 billion in 2023, any expense on a defensive plan is a wise investment.
Employers should define and establish safe work practices to further minimize hazardous exposures. These include setting administrative controls such as clear policies, procedures, and protocols for employees. Further, they should provide employee training on hazard recognition and conduct regular safety audits.
With robust administrative controls in place, employers can ensure that employees have the knowledge and resources to mitigate hazards in the long run. Also, do not take a set-and-forget approach to hazards because they can strike when you least expect them to.
In conclusion, hazardous exposures in the workplace are a real threat, regardless of the industry. The pandemic proved that people working in secure environments are at as much risk as those working in high-rise buildings, chemical plants, and factories. However, it also created awareness among employers regarding their duty of care toward the workforce. These effective strategies can help you take a responsible approach to worker safety.