We all know that industrial workplaces carry a risk. Heavy machinery, cables and chemicals, working at heights – the issues these pose is clear for us all to see.
Yet, the trouble is it’s often easy to focus solely on these hazards. If our eyes tell us there’s a danger up ahead we tread carefully, don protective equipment and proceed with caution. But what about the things we can’t see? It’s easy to forget the dangers that lie in the atmosphere as we work.
The website Surfaceworld points out how two of the most common health hazards in the metal industry are breathing problems and hearing loss – often issues in which people don’t realise there’s a problem until it’s too late. It highlights how each year roughly 13,000 deaths occur due to occupational respiratory diseases in the UK and 10,000 estimated new cases of breathing or lung problems are said to be caused or made worse by work.
On top of that, more than 17,000 people in the UK suffer from deafness or tinnitus because of workplace noise.
Equally invisible – and problematic – is the rise of mental health in the workplace. An article by the Guardian pointed out how more than two fifths of employers have seen increase in workers reporting conditions such as depression or anxiety.
Why are these workplace health issues on the rise?
Workplace health is clearly a concern but, in order to get to the bottom of the matter, it is crucial to understand why the issues occur.
No-one (well, except those up to no good) sets out to inflict breathing, noise or stress related health issues in their staff – it’s neither morally acceptable or good for the smooth running of an operation for these matters to occur.
Yet consider the following factors:
*Cost pressures are forcing businesses to operate on as lean a workforce as possible. When staff levels dip too low people end up working longer hours which leads to issues with stress and mistakes being made. Businesses need robust HR departments and have to spot when they are pushing people too far.
*New equipment and working practices are being developed all the time yet businesses are often slow to adapt these. Inventions such as suction blast cabinets are able to remove harmful particles from the air during the industrial blasting process, for example, meaning that a once-hazardous process is now much safer.
*Many workers now continue in their jobs to a much older age. While it’s wrong to generalize, this is a factor that businesses need to take into account when it comes to health.
*Staff need to take responsibility for their own safety, of course, but many may feel uneasy speaking up and ‘rocking the boat’ – especially now that ‘zero hour’ and short term contracts have become the norm and staff – rightly or not – feel under pressure just to hang onto a job. Young or overseas workers are also often oblivious to some of the issues faced in the workplace – it is beholden on employees to give them the right safety training to be able to understand their role properly.
There’s no easy answer. A combination of worker error, economic pressures and training or equipment issues for employers all contribute to workplace health issues. The reasons are often as difficult to understand as the hazards themselves. Yet, with a combination of better training, better equipment and better awareness everyone can take their own share of the responsibility for making the world of work a much safer place.