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Keeping Your Workplace Safe from Environmental Hazards

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Since writing this post in 2018, a lot has happened to cause workers to be nervous about going to the workplace. Every continent except Antarctica has the Coronavirus pandemic and near all countries that have cases except for Sweden and South Korea went into lockdown. Remote working increased, and now many workers want it to continue. So where were we before COVID-19?

In 2016, an American worker was injured every seven seconds which means that 12,900 workers were hurt per day and 4.7 million were injured per year, according to the National Safety Council.

The numbers get even bleaker. In addition to those injured non-fatally, 5,190 workers were killed on the job according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States Department of Labor. Those numbers translate into an average of more than 99 workers killed per week, or more than 14 deaths each day. Deaths in the workplace in America have decreased significantly over the years. The estimate is 38 worker deaths a day in 1970 to about 14 a day in 2016, and today we have an even lower tolerance for workplace fatalities.

Despite the still all too common occurrence of injuries and fatalities at places of work, it is an employee’s basic right to have a safe place in which to work, according to the Hazard Communication Standard which details employers’ responsibilities to providing a safe workplace.

Specific safety precautions are generally talked about quite often in discourses about workplace safety, such as the need to prevent slips and falls, maintain and abide by safety standards, and to ensure that equipment functions correctly. However, another less publicized hazard that poses a significant threat to almost all workers in every workplace is employees’ exposure to environmental hazards, most often in the form of chemicals.

It’s not unknown for businesses to not know there are dangerous chemicals on site. Yet most commercial premises will have some cleaning products that are deemed toxic. The reality is that chemicals are all around us,in products we use every day.

Air spray used to freshen the conference room or the restroom at the office is a typical example of dangerous substances. Regular use of those aerosols can increase the risk of developing asthma by 30 to 50 per cent due to the heavy concentration in hazardous phthalates in the product. Many candles also contain toxic paraffin that releases carcinogenic chemicals when burned.

Air quality should concern every property owner, commercial and residential and all inhabitants. Clear air saves lives. Stop using harmful aerosols and air fresheners and purify the air before it’s released within the building.

Another example of harmful chemicals hiding in everyday products in the office is that of flame retardants found in the carpeting, on the couch, or in the chair padding, among many other hidden places, that millions of workers come into contact with regularly every day.

An estimated 32 million workers each year are potentially exposed to chemical hazards. Plus millions of people are exposed to ubiquitous chemicals hiding in our everyday products. The statistics are alarming, with about 650,000 chemicals (and more being created all the time) harmful to people, property or the environment.

Employers can encourage a culture of safety at work. The task of keeping the workplace safe may sound impossible because chemicals are everywhere, and the exposure is almost impossible to prevent. Yet, by following some basic but important guidelines, employers can create and operate a safe workplace that minimizes employees’ exposure to toxins.

Here are some tips to get started:

Awareness

This first step is to create awareness. If a worker is injured because of the carelessness or negligence of another individual such as an employer, the employer may be liable, explains personal injury lawyers DePaolo & Zadeikis. That is why it is important to identify what constitutes a hazardous or dangerous chemical or product. Some examples of common hazardous chemicals include:

  • Paints, cleaning supplies, detergents
  • Pesticides, herbicides insecticides
  • Cosmetics, flammable liquids, toxic fumes
  • Medications, blood and other biohazards
  • Refrigerant gases, diesel fuel, petrol, flammable liquids

Compliance

The next step is compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines to ensure all hazardous materials are correctly labelled with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Keeping up to date with regulations governing workplace health and safety codes on both a state and federal level is critical too.

Education

The next step is educating employees through training as to what hazardous materials are on site. Training should cover how to handle, store and dispose of the substances, and should explain what uniforms or protective gear such as gloves, masks, goggles or boots is required when in contact with the chemicals. Paperwork, which is sometimes required to be completed when dealing with dangerous materials, should also be explained in detail.

Risk Management Plan

Finally, a clear and concise written hazard communication program that is posted in plain site will ensure that the workplace is equipped with all the information that employers and employees need to know. By doing so, the entire staff can work as a team to ensure that the protective measures outlined are implemented. The written program should include a list of the hazardous chemicals on-site, the risks and hazards associated with chemicals, the provisions for labelling, handling and disposal of the substances, and any other important information.

In conclusion, we are facing our most significant challenge with COVID-19, yet we also need to avoid all exposure to chemicals at work, and at home too. Therefore, companies and property owners need to take all the preventative measures possible, and employees must adhere to them for the safety and well being of everyone.

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