5 Common Workplace Hazards

These are some common hazards found in all workplaces in New Zealand:

1. Manual Handling

Manual handling injuries are not limited to those sustained by lifting or carrying heavy loads. A person can be injured in several ways when handling objects including pulling, pushing, holding or restraining. Good posture and lifting techniques can help reduce the risks, but making changes to workplace design is also an effective way to prevent manual handling injury. Recommendations for managing these risks include:

• Provide appropriate mechanical aids and equipment to minimise the risk of manual handling injuries.

• Ensure mechanical aids and equipment are used and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications.

• Store objects at waist height to reduce the need to lift objects.

• Reduce the size and weight of objects to be lifted (ensure this does not increase the frequency of lifting).

• Ensure floors and ground surfaces in work areas, car parks and entrances are level, clean, well lit, clear of obstacles and in good condition.

2. Chemical Hazards

Chemical hazards are present when you are exposed to any chemical preparation (solid, liquid or gas) in the workplace. Specific types of chemicals have been associated with harmful health effects. Common chemical hazards include:

• Skin irritation, burns, eye injury or blindness caused by corrosive chemical products.

• Toxic vapours and fumes, caused by mixing incompatible chemicals.

• Serious burns from flammable solvents that catch on fire.

• Injury from exploding containers, such as spray cans.

• Poisoning from accidental swallowing.

A person conducting a business or undertaking has a primary duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of workers and other people are not put at risk from the business’ use, handling or storage of hazardous chemicals. Recommendations for managing these risks include:

• Treat all chemicals as potentially dangerous to health, unless safety data sheet (SDS) or label states otherwise.

• Obtain safety data sheets (SDS) for all dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals at your workplace, and ensure workers have access to them.

• Eliminate the substance from use (e.g. use steam cleaning rather than washing with a solvent).

• If you cannot eliminate, use a less harmful product or process or a less hazardous form of the substance (e.g. pellets instead of powders, water-based paint instead of oil-based paint).

• Design work and the workplace to isolate the process or substance from workers to prevent contact (e.g. enclose process).

• Install ventilation and extraction to reduce exposure (e.g. use a spray booth).

• Train workers on safe work practices that reduce exposure (e.g. re-seal containers, clean up spills and restrict unnecessary access).

• Provide personal protective clothing and equipment (e.g. respirators) for workers.

• Ensure all controls are maintained. You may have to conduct air monitoring to determine worker exposure levels and undertake health surveillance. If you are not sure if there is a problem, get some assistance.

3. Slips, Trips and Falls

Slip, trips and falls are a major cause of workplace injury in New Zealand but these events are often avoidable. Slips occur when a person’s foot loses traction with the ground surface, trips occur when a person unexpectedly catches their foot on an object or surface. Falls may result from a slip or trip but many occur during falls from low heights or into a hole, ditch or body of water. There are many situations that may cause slips, trips and falls to occur in the workplace including:

• Wet or greasy floors.

• Uneven walking surfaces.

• Loose flooring, carpeting or mats.

• Missing or uneven floor tiles and bricks.

• Damaged irregular steps; no handrails.

• Clutter.

• Electrical cords or cables.

• Open desk or file cabinet drawers.

• Ramps and gang planks without skid-resistant surfaces.

• Weather hazards e.g. rain, wind, frost.

If risks are not managed in the workplace it can lead to injuries for a worker ranging from bruising, broken bones to an extremely serious injury. Recommendations for managing risks include:

• Provide appropriate equipment (e.g. mobile steps with handrails and work platforms) and ensure it is used properly and maintained in accordance with manufacturer specifications.

• Ensure floors or ground surfaces are level.

• Ensure floors or ground surfaces in work areas, car parks and entrances are clean, well lit, and clear of obstacles and in good condition.

• Develop policies on how to safely carry objects (e.g. no unstable or unbalanced loads), particularly on stairs.

• Ensure ladders are designed for the task.

4. Fatigue

If fatigue is not addressed and managed it may lead to immediate safety problems. For example, a worker could be so tired from long hours of work that they do not see a warning light flashing. Work-related factors leading to fatigue include workload, long work hours, long hours of physical or mental activity, insufficient break time, inadequate rest, poor rostering, shift work, excessive stress or a combination of these factors. Fatigue can be a major source of stress for workers and fatigue can significantly affect a worker’s ability to function properly. Signs and symptoms of fatigue include:

• Tiredness.

• Sleepiness.

• Irritability.

• Depression.

• Loss of appetite and digestive problems.

• Increased susceptibility to illness.

Fatigue can create safety hazards in the workplace. It can impact on a worker’s performance and productivity, increase the potential for injury, compromise the safety of other workers and people who the business might service such as patients at a hospital. Recommendations for managing risks related to workplace fatigue include:

• Provide sufficient breaks and ensure there is drinking water available.

• Ensure workers are not exposed to repetitive work for long periods (e.g. by using job rotation, task variation) or work that requires a significant amount of high force without rest breaks.

• Work with employees to manage workload levels, safe staffing and rostering levels.

• Develop strategies for managing the impact of fatigue (e.g. develop a fatigue management system and train managers/team leaders how to effectively implement it).

• Train workers how to recognise fatigue signs and symptoms.

5. Work-related Stress, Bullying and Work-Related Violence

Unfortunately, workplace bullying is a reality in New Zealand. It affects people physically and mentally, resulting in increased stress levels, decreased emotional wellbeing, reduced coping strategies and lower work performance. Workplace stress can interfere with a worker’s productivity and performance—and impact on physical and emotional health. Often workers can experience stress when they are overwhelmed by workplace demands and responsibilities are greater than what is manageable or tasks are beyond their capability. If workplace stress is not addressed and managed quickly it may lead to immediate safety problems. Similar to fatigue, signs and symptoms of work-related stress include:

• Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed.

• Apathy, loss of interest in work.

• Problems sleeping.

• Fatigue.

• Trouble concentrating.

• Muscle tension or headaches or stomach problems.

• Social withdrawal.

• Using alcohol or drugs to cope.

Workplace violence experienced by a worker can also lead to stress. Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve anyone involved with the workplace e.g. employees, clients, customers, contractors and visitors.

Factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites include:

  • exchanging money with the public
  • working alone or in isolated areas
  • providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served may also impact the likelihood of violence
  • time of day and location of work, such as working late at night or in areas with high crime rates, are also risk factors that should be considered when addressing issues of workplace violence


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