There’s a lot of advice out there about safety in the workplace – a lot more than most employees care to read. And while occupational safety needs to be top priority for employers and workers alike, it can be difficult to sift through all that information and figure out what’s most important.
Of course, different industries have different safety requirements and best practices. It’s critical that employees participate fully in their job- and industry-specific training.
But here, we’ve broken down the top pieces of occupational safety information we think every employee should know.
1. Good Ergonomics Are Key to Safe and Healthy Work
No matter what industry or position you’re in, you must take care to keep a good posture and protect your back.
Factors that contribute to poor ergonomics include:
- Working in awkward positions
- Overexerting yourself when lifting, pushing, or pulling items
- Sitting too long in the same position
- Engaging in repetitive motions
Left untreated, ergonomic issues can result in muscle and joint injuries that can keep you away from work and affect your quality of life at home (learn more about the Risk Factors for Developing Musculoskeletal Disorders).
To maintain good ergonomics:
- Take regular walks and stretch breaks
- When you feel any pain, let your supervisor know immediately
- Do not lift or carry excessively heavy items
- Where possible, use tools that are ergonomically designed for comfort
2. Dehydration Can Impair Your Performance at Work
You wouldn’t show up to work drunk, yet many people go about their workday in an impaired state – from dehydration.
A 2015 study found that performance in the dehydrated group of subjects was just as poor as in those who completed similar tests while legally drunk. This is mainly due to dehydration's negative impact on concentration and reaction time.
Workers need to make sure they replace the fluids they lose. The best way to do this is by drinking water at regular intervals, even if you're not feeling thirsty.
3. Working an Overnight Shift Increases Safety Risk by 11 Percent
According to experts, it all comes down to fatigue. Fatigue reduces physical and mental function; impairs concentration, judgment, and reaction time; reduces motivation; and increases risk-taking behaviour. This might help explain why most workplace accidents tend to occur between midnight and 6:00 am – a time when most people feel tired and want to sleep.
Workers can help combat fatigue (and the accompanying hazards) during overnight shifts by:
- Varying your work tasks, as much as possible
- Eating healthy meals at regular times to establish a routine
- Getting at least seven hours of sleep each night
- Notifying their supervisor if they feel too fatigued to perform a task safely
4. Fall Protection Isn't Foolproof
The leading cause of fall-related deaths continues to be the failure to use fall protection equipment. But safety professionals are seeing a rise something new. They call it "know nothing, fear nothing."
Too many workers (and their employers) think they’re safe simply because they have some sort of fall protection device. Unfortunately, not every device is appropriate for every situation. And that leaves some workers in serious danger in the event of a fall.
It’s imperative that workers educate themselves so they fully understand how their fall protection device works. Knowledge is power. And in this case, it could save a life.
5. Not All PPE Is Created Equal
Personal protective equipment is a worker's last line of defense, and often the only thing that stands between them and a serious injury. It can't be left up to chance, which is why DCM has a comprehensive PPE program to ensure that the right gear is used (and used properly).
One of the most common mistakes is inadequately assessing a hazard and thinking it’s less risky than it really is. This can lead to selecting the wrong PPE – and putting employees at risk.
The risk assessment is one of the most important steps to choosing the right PPE for each application. Workers must educate themselves about the gear required for their tasks and make sure they're using it every time. There's a big difference between Class 1 Hi-Vis clothing and Class 3 Hi-Vis clothing, so just having an orange vest doesn't mean you're adequately protected (check out these 5 Tips for Designing an Effective PPE Program).
6. Always Heed Safety Signs
From the road to the home to the warehouse, signs telling us what to do (or not do) are everywhere.
So much so, in fact, that we tend to overlook their value. But safety signs play an important role in maintaining a safe workplace, and employees must recognize and respect them.
Remember these cues:
- Blue signs are notices and denote safety information, like required PPE
- Green represents safety, such as identifying the location of safety materials and first aid equipment
- Yellow is cautionary, identifying indicates potentially hazardous situations that could result in moderate injury
- Orange signs are for warnings, indicating potentially hazardous situations that may result in serious injury or death
- Red represents fire, danger, or stop and indicates an immediately hazardous situation that could cause serious injury or death
7. You Have the Right to Refuse Unsafe Work
Perhaps the most important piece of information that workers can remember is that they have the legal right to say "no" to work if they believe they are in imminent danger, either from the workplace atmosphere or the machines, tools, or equipment they are using.
Employee safety is our top priority at DCM, which is why we have implemented a Right to Refuse Work policy. Every company that values its employees should do the same.
This isn’t, of course, an opportunity to decline a task because you’re tired – but if your safety and well being is potentially threatened, it’s critical that you speak up immediately (find out How to Refuse Unsafe Work).
Whether you’re working at a job site, warehouse, or factory, these pieces of safety information can help ensure a smooth, incident-free shift every time.